What does it take to leave the Ku Klux Klan?

It’s probably the most extraordinary story of the power of empathy I’ve ever come across.

In 1971, the former Ku Klux Klan leader C.P. Ellis had an experience that blew away his prejudices and assumptions about African Americans. In this new 4-minute video produced by Renegade Inc, I reveal how and why it happened.

It’s especially relevant in the wake of the recent racially-motivated church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.

If anybody ever tells you that empathy is a touchy-feely ‘soft skill’ that has little chance of changing society, just tell them about C.P. Ellis.

This video is based on ideas in my book Empathy, which has just been released in paperback by Penguin Random House.

CP Ellis Ann Atwater 1971 edit
Ku Klux Klansman CP Ellis working alongside his great adversary, the civil rights activist Ann Atwater, in 1971.


3 Tips for Practising Empathy With Your Kids

Roman KrznaricMy six-year-old daughter said something interesting the other day. ‘Dad, why do you shout at me when really you’re upset with your work?’ She’s perceptive, and probably far more perceptive than I realise. It made me think about how large the gulf of understanding between parents and children can be. And that gulf sometimes takes the form of an empathy gap – a failure to be able to step into their shoes. So I’ve written an article about it, which you’ll find at the Huffington Post, called 3 Tips for Practising Empathy With Your Kids.

The ideas in the article draw on a new series of over twenty microvideos I’ve just done with Kids in the House on empathy and parenting. Check them out here.

Tolstoy’s top tips for happiness in 2015

Tolstoy change yourselfBBC Radio 4 is celebrating the New Year with a marathon ten-hour dramatisation of Tolstoy’s epic novel War and Peace. As part of the festivities, I’ve written an article for the BBC on seven lessons we can learn from the life of the bearded sage for the art of living in 2015. Read the article here, which is based on my book The Wonderbox (published in the US as How Should We Live?). But if you want a quick taster of his top tips for a happy life:

1.Keep an open mind

2.Practice empathy

3.Make a difference

4.Master the art of simple living

5.Beware your contradictions

6.Become a craftsman

7.Expand your social circle

And here’s a wonderful short video clip showing Tolstoy himself putting some of the above into practice:

Happy New Year, Roman

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.

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. Continue reading

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.

How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life

HSWL Cover finalIt’s launch day for my new book How Should We Live? Great Ideas from the Past for Everyday Life, which has just been released in the US. Previously published in the UK under the title The Wonderbox (sorry, a bit confusing, I know), it’s about what history can teach us about the art of living. What might we learn from the Ancient Greeks about the different varieties of love, from the Renaissance about creativity and death, or from the industrial revolution about rethinking our attitudes to work, money and family life?

But rather than tell you all about the book myself, there’s a fascinating review and discussion of it by the brilliant Maria Popova from Brain Pickings, which came out today. She describes it (most flatteringly) as ‘an illuminating and awakening read in its entirety’. Check out her full article, which focuses on the topics of love, time and empathy.


17 Ways to Seize the Day

carpediemdailyI’ve just finished writing a new book on empathy, due out early next year, provisionally titled Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. In my effort to get the manuscript in on time, I’ve been neglecting answering emails and dealing with bills, and my study is piled with bits of paper that I’ve been meaning to file for months. I just came across one of those bits of paper that I’d completely forgotten about. It’s a list of 17 ideas to help you seize the day, which I prepared for a School of Life project a few years ago called Carpe Diem Daily. Continue reading