Welcome to the Festival of Love

What Is Love exhibit Southbank Festival of LoveI was recently at London’s Southbank Centre for the launch of their fabulous summer Festival of Love. What made the occasion particularly special for me was that the two-month festival, running throughout July and August, has been based around the different varieties of love in Ancient Greece that appear in my book The Wonderbox. To set the scene I gave the opening talk on these forgotten approaches to the art of loving, discussing eros (sexual passion), philia (friendship), storge (familial love), pragma (mature love), ludus (playful love), agape (selfless love) and philautia (self-love).

Afterwards, I spent some time exploring the amazing range of installations, exhibits and events that have been commissioned around the different kinds of love. Right outside the Royal Festival Hall, along the riverside path, I found a giant Temple of Agape. Inside, I discovered a space dedicated to exploring teen Eros and the cult of celebrity, where visitors could dress up and sing karaoke as their favourite pop star.

My favourite exhibit was the  Museum of Broken Relationships, which features artefacts donated by former lovers, each telling a story about their break-up – everything from cute teddy bears to shards of glass that were smashed during a final argument. Here’s a short video describing what you will find there (it began in Zagreb, Croatia, and now tours the world).

Along the way I attended some great talks. Shami Chakrabati, the fiery director of human rights organisation Liberty, discussed how love can transform politics. There was a  fascinating conversation about depictions of love in the media between the Southbank’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly and Cosmopolitan magazine’s sex expert Rachel Morris, while author James McConnachie explained how the Kama Sutra was about far more than exotic sexual positions.

Eros totem Festival of Love

The festival extended into Queen Elizabeth Hall, where there was an exhibition called What Love Is, containing giant totems to each variety of love, including some revealing quotes from The Wonderbox on each of them, and videos such as the spiritual thinker Jiddu Krishnamurti talking about the relationship between love and loneliness.

I finished off my dip into the festival by joining hundreds of people in Voicelab’s giant Big Love Sing overlooking the Thames, which was quite a personal achievement, since singing in public has long been one of my greatest fears (I have even been known to mouth the words to ‘Happy Birthday To You’ at my children’s birthday parties).

Most gratifying of all was to overhear people young and old casually using Ancient Greek terms like agape and philia as they chatted to their friends. Aristotle would have been impressed. And long may it continue. I truly believe that if we can learn to speak about love in a more nuanced way, we will transform the very nature of our relationships, and expand love beyond the romantic vision to something much deeper and more powerful.

You’ve still got time to get down to the Festival of Love, where there are plenty of events going on alongside the artworks. Coming up on August 16-17 is a Philautia Weekend, dedicated to the love we give to ourselves. The festival culminates on August 30-31 with a Big Wedding Weekend, where couples gay or straight can get married en masse or renew their marriage vows.

Finally, here’s a question to set you thinking: What have you learned about the different varieties of love in the course of your life?

Posted in art, creativity, emotions, love | 1 Comment

In Ronald Duncan’s Writing Hut

Ronald Duncan's writing hutI am sitting in a tiny, sparse stone hut at the top of a North Devon cliff, overlooking the sea. Outside is an enticing sign: ‘Ronald Duncan’s Writing Hut is Open’. This is where the West Country poet and playwright – best known for writing the libretto for Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia – used to spend his working days. Read More »

Posted in deathstyle, empathy, literature, seize the day, simple living | Tagged | 1 Comment

Let’s base World Cup teams on star sign and shoe size!

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, whose birthday is on February 5, would be a star player in the Aquarius zodiac team.

As football fever envelops the planet, with all eyes turned towards Brazil, I want you to imagine a different World Cup. Each country sends their national team as usual, but then all the players are pooled together and divided into teams based on their astrological star sign. So Virgos play Leos, and Aquarians are pitted against Aries, with each team having players from a mix of countries. Who would win overall? Perhaps the power of Taurus, the bull, would be no match for the sharp sting of Scorpio. We might imagine other World Cups, where teams are based on shoe size – the clodhopping size elevens against the nimble-toed eights – or maybe the favourite colour of each player. Read More »

Posted in empathy, ethics, history, sport | Leave a comment

The World’s First Empathy Museum

Empathy Museum RSA Animate

One of my ambitions is to found the world’s first Empathy Museum – an experiential and conversational adventure space for stepping into other people’s shoes. I’ve just written an article at the Virgin Unite blog where I describe my vision for the museum as both a physical space and a digital community. You might, for instance, encounter a Human Library where you borrow people (instead of books) for conversation, or a Sweatshop where you make clothing under the working conditions of sweatshop labourers in developing countries.

And here’s some great news. Not only have we recently held a fantastically creative ‘hack weekend’ with students from the Royal College of Art in London, designing prototype exhibits – we’ve also received seed funding to help turn the Empathy Museum into a reality. So the journey starts here.

Do check out the article, and share below any ideas you may have for exhibits that should be part of the Empathy Museum.

Posted in art, conversation, empathy, empathy through experience | 10 Comments

Why The Empathy Critics Are Wrong: Empathy Doesn’t Break Democracy, It Makes It

You can always tell when a new idea is becoming popular – people start critiquing it. That’s certainly the case when it comes to empathy, a concept that is getting more public attention today than at any point in its history (the frequency of Google searches for the word ‘empathy’ has more than doubled in the past decade). Read More »

Posted in emotions, empathy, ethics, history, literature, philosophy, politics, psychology, public policy | 3 Comments

6 Ways to Teach Yourself Empathy

6WaystoTeachYourselfEmpathy‘Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’ wrote George Bernard Shaw, ‘they might have different tastes’. This and other ideas for teaching yourself empathy appear in this new article in Readers Digest magazine. You’ll also find some advice from one of my heroes, the American oral historian Studs Terkel, who I rate as one of the greatest conversationalists of the 20th century: ‘Don’t be the examiner, be the interested enquirer.’

Roman Krznaric’s new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, is published by Random House.

Posted in emotions, empathy, empathy library, empathy through conversation, empathy through experience, psychology | Leave a comment

Why George Orwell Became A Tramp

It was exactly 30 years ago that George Orwell set the opening of his novel 1984: ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ Most people know Orwell for this novel, and his satirical tale Animal Farm. Less well known is that he was one of the great empathic adventurers of the twentieth century. In the following short clip from my RSA Animate The Power of Outrospection, I describe how Orwell learned to step into other people’s shoes when he became a tramp on the streets of East London in the late 1920s. Orwell was one of the major inspirations for my new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution.

Here’s the one minute clip.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

Posted in empathy, ethics, history, literature, politics, travel | 2 Comments

How to empathise with a telesales caller

telesalesWhat kinds of life experiences open us up to empathy? One of my own, which in part inspired me to write my new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, took place when I had a horrible job working in telesales in Sydney after I left university. Here’s what I learned…

Something like this has probably happened to you. It is a quarter to seven on a Tuesday evening. You are cooking dinner and, at the same time, trying to get your overtired five-year-old to put on her pyjamas. The phone rings. It could be your mother. But in all probability it is somebody trying to sell you something. You pick up the phone. ‘Hello, is that ____ ?’ Your name is mispronounced. You were right. Telesales. You interrupt their pitch, telling them you’re not interested before you even know what they’re calling about. They ask for just a few minutes of your time. You respond, impatiently, that you’re busy cooking and that you’re not interested. And the moment they start replying, you hang up. Read More »

Posted in conversation, empathy, empathy through conversation, ethics, work | 2 Comments

UPDATE! Empathy Sermon at The School of Life (with Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone)

So sorry folks but in the blog post I just sent you about my recent Empathy Sermon at The School of Life many people couldn’t see the embedded video in their email. So here is the post again but this time including a link to the video. Big apologies. Hope you enjoy it…

It was a huge privilege and pleasure to give one of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons at London’s historic Conway Hall recently. Last time I’d been there was to discuss the power of vulnerability with emotions researcher Brené Brown. This time I was there to talk about my new book Empathy, but that was just part of it. The 500-strong congregation stood at the beginning and end to sing two great empathy-related songs: Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. There were even little shoe-shaped biscuits from Biscuiteers

Here’s the video from the Sermon in full, where I talk about the six habits of highly empathic people and how to make them part of your everyday life.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

Posted in emotions, empathy, history, peace building, philosophy, videos | Leave a comment

Empathy Sermon at The School of Life (with Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone)

It was a huge privilege and pleasure to give one of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons at London’s historic Conway Hall recently. Last time I’d been there was to discuss the power of vulnerability with emotions researcher Brené Brown. This time I was there to talk about my new book Empathy, but that was just part of it. The 500-strong congregation stood at the beginning and end to sing two great empathy-related songs: Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. There were even little shoe-shaped biscuits from Biscuiteers

Here’s the video from the Sermon in full, where I talk about the six habits of highly empathic people and how to make them part of your everyday life.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

Posted in emotions, empathy, history, peace building, philosophy, videos | Leave a comment
  • Welcome to OUTROSPECTION, my blog on empathy and the art of living. You'll find articles, interviews and news on the fundamental questions of how to live, with an emphasis on outrospection, which is about discovering who we are by stepping outside ourselves and exploring the lives of other people and cultures.

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