There’s a Giant Shoe Box on the River Thames: It’s the Empathy Museum!

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This weekend in London the world’s first Empathy Museum opened its doors. It’s a moment I’ve been dreaming about for years. Seeing it actually come to life has been completely thrilling, even overwhelming.

There has been a constant stream of visitors to our launch exhibit, A Mile in My Shoes, a giant shoe box on the banks of the River Thames by Vauxhall Bridge. I’ve seen a 75-year-old woman scooting along the riverside on roller skates while listening to the story of a roller derby champion. I’ve seen curious men slip on the size 12 stilettos of a bearded drag queen. I noticed a woman almost in tears listening to the narrative of someone who lost members of her family in a tragic accident, while I was told by others that the very same story made them feel empowered and more fully alive. Children giggled as they ran along in the size 1 gym shoes of a local schoolgirl and discovered how she saw the world. Continue reading

Ever Been to an Empathy Shoe Shop?

EM Empathy Shoe ShopIt’s official: the Empathy Museum will be opening its doors in September 2015, as part of Totally Thames, the huge and vibrant annual festival taking place along London’s waterfront.

Personally, this is a big day for me. I’ve been dreaming about the Empathy Museum for years, and wrote about it in my book Empathy. I’m thrilled that it’s now becoming a reality.

As discussed in this feature article in today’s Independent newspaper, one of the main exhibits will be ‘A Mile in My Shoes’, which takes the form of a unique empathy shoe shop. One of the shop assistants will fit you out with a pair of shoes belonging to someone from a different background – maybe a Syrian refugee or an Old Etonian investment banker – and you will be able to literally walk a mile in their shoes while listening to a recording of them talking about their life, so you really get to see the world from their perspective.

We’ll also be running events such as Human Libraries, where instead of borrowing a book you borrow a person for conversation.

The Empathy Museum will later travel to other London venues then around the country in a bespoke eco bus, visiting schools and galleries, town centres and supermarket car parks, cliff tops and office blocks.

It will also launch online and be touring internationally. In February 2016, the Empathy Museum is going to Australia, appearing as a centrepiece of the Perth International Arts Festival.

The museum is being masterminded by its Director, the internationally renowned artist and curator Clare Patey.

To keep up with the Empathy Museum’s development and tour programme, sign up here. And please spread the word!

 

Top 10 books and films for Holocaust Memorial Day

Maus

Here’s a guest post from the Head Curator of The Empathy Library, Sophia Blackwell.

To mark Holocaust Memorial Day, The Empathy Library has chosen a selection of its resources to share, educate and inspire; to help us remember those who are no longer with us, reach a better understanding of the impact on the survivors and their children, and move towards a present and future where empathy, compassion and dialogue take the place of intolerance and conflict. There are, naturally, many sad stories in the list, but also stories of friendship, love and endurance.

1. Schindler’s List

Shot in black and white, Spielberg’s cinematic rendering of Thomas Keneally’s novel Schindler’s Ark does a fine job of bringing the extraordinary story of Oskar Schindler to life. Both book and film made clear that Schindler was no saint; rather a dyed-in-the-wool pragmatist whose growing friendship with his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern opened his eyes to the suffering around him. (http://ow.ly/HZTE0)

2. Maus

A classic graphic novel based on the author’s experience of interviewing his father Vladek about his experiences in a concentration camp during World War II. Many survivors’ children felt that their childhood was cut short or distorted by their parents’ experiences and the mark on the author’s life is painfully clear throughout. An exceptional story, but also recognisable to anyone with parents. (http://ow.ly/HZTTs)

3. Encounter Point

Encounter Point takes a look at the growing grassroots peace movement among Israelis and Palestinians. Moving beyond sensational images of conflict, the film follows these young people’s journeys into the most unlikely places to confront hatred within their communities and work towards a grassroots solution. (http://ow.ly/HZU10)

4. The Arrival

The beautifully illustrated story of a migrant told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. As he is helped along by strangers, he hears their own stories of suffering, courage, survival and hope. (http://ow.ly/HZUe2)

5. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

A highly recommended guide to embedding empathy and compassion in your day-to-day life, applying the concepts within these books will guide the reader towards a fostering more compassion in the world. (http://ow.ly/HZUpm)

6. Molly’s Pilgrim

A well-known American children’s book about a young Russian-Jewish girl trying to fit in at school during her first Thanksgiving. An ideal read to help children understand the difficulties faced by young children from different cultures as they try to adapt. (http://ow.ly/HZUwT)

7. The Paris Architect

How far would you go to help a stranger? What would you risk? Would you trade your life for another’s? A fascinating novel of Paris under the Occupation in all its opulence, fear and contradictions. Malcolm Gladwell called the author an ‘up-and-coming Ken Follett,’ and this suspenseful story is definitely worth a look. (http://ow.ly/HZUFL)

8. Mina Tannenbaum

While mainly about female friendship, the central story in this 1990s French film also touches on the artistic and troubled heroine’s relationship with her father, a Holocaust survivor, and how that forms and shapes her own outlook on life in contrast to her more carefree friends. (http://ow.ly/HZUNW)

9. Beyond Right and Wrong

A woman who survived the death of her five children wonders if she can forgive the man who killed them. A victim’s daughter strikes up an unusual friendship with the bomber who killed her father. And two men—one Palestinian, one Israeli—form a bond after tragedies claim their daughters. These survivors of conflicts in Rwanda, Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine share their stories of loss and recovery in their own words. (http://ow.ly/HZUTa)

10. The Man Who Planted Trees

Set aside five minutes of your lunch break or grab a coffee and indulge in this Oscar-winning short film which, though only made in the late eighties, is largely lost to history. It tells the story of a man in Provence who by the strength of his indomitable will and love for the land, transforms a barren wasteland into a verdant landscape. A quiet reminder to us to have more reverence for the earth and for others. (http://ow.ly/HZV8k)

The Empathy Library was founded by Roman Krznaric, author of Empathy. It is curated by Sophia Blackwell.  Join the Empathy Library here.

 

Why We Should Give Video Cameras to the Homeless

I recently came across a powerful, short video called This is Adam, about a homeless guy living on the streets of San Francisco. He had all sorts of interesting and insightful things to say, amongst them this: ‘I notice every day that people everywhere are losing their compassion and empathy – not just for homeless people but for society in general.’ What’s really striking is that we see the world as if through Adam’s eyes, including how people ignore him as they pass by. Continue reading

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). Continue reading

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.

New book out today: EMPATHY

Empathy coverToday is launch day for my new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. More than ten years in the making, I explore the six habits of highly empathic people, and how stepping into other people’s shoes can both transform everyday life and create radical social change.

You can find out more about the book here. Buy it from Amazon or your local bookstore.

I discuss some of the key ideas in the book in this article in the Guardian, and in my new TEDx talk How to Start an Empathy Revolution.

Alongside the book, I have launched the world’s first online Empathy Library, a digital treasure house where you can find powerful and inspiring books and films all about empathy. Do take a look.

Please spread word about the book to friends, family, lovers and strangers. And let me know what you think of it!

Empathy Library launches today!

ELlogoToday I’m pleased and proud to announce the launch of my new project, the world’s first online Empathy Library. It’s a digital treasure house where you will find inspiring and powerful books and films that catapult your imagination into other people’s lives. There are Top Ten Charts, you can browse by themes like love or poverty, and join the library to add your own favourite items. Think of it as Goodreads for the Empathy Revolution! Supporting organisations include The School of Life, Friends of the Earth, Ashoka and Roots of Empathy.

Check out the Empathy Library here.

Can reading a novel change the world?

‘It was through books that I first realised there were other worlds beyond my own; first imagined what it might be like to be another person,’ wrote novelist Julian Barnes in a recent Guardian essay. It’s an enticing thought that reading fiction might help us escape the straitjacket of our egos and expand our moral universes. Modern literary theorists are, however, decidedly sniffy about the notion. ‘They see the idea as too middlebrow, too therapeutic, too kitsch, too sentimental, too Oprah,’ according to Steven Pinker in his latest tome, The Better Angels of Our Nature.

Yet Pinker, together with philosopher Martha Nussbaum, psychologist Keith Oatley and historian Lynn Hunt, is amongst a new band of champions for the idea that reading can indeed change not just ourselves, but the world. If we want to put this idea to the test, a good starting point is one of the most popular novels of the nineteenth century, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. What interests me, though, is not simply the extraordinary social impact of this admittedly sentimental story, but what its writing reveals about the origins of morality itself. Continue reading