Why every city needs an Empathy Museum

Just as the world’s major cities now have Holocaust Museums, it is time they all established Empathy Museums too. Their purpose would be nothing less than generating a new global culture of empathy by creating adventure spaces where you can explore how to view life from the perspective of other people.

A typical Empathy Museum would not house dusty exhibits inside glass cases. Instead, it would be an exciting and intriguing playground rivalling the finest galleries and tourist attractions that the city has to offer. On rainy Sunday afternoons you might wander through the Empathy Museum with a few friends or your mother-in-law. During the week it is likely to be filled with children on school excursions and inquisitive visitors from countries where the ideal of empathy remains embryonic. The Empathy Museum will ignite the imagination just like the first public museums in the seventeenth century, whose collections of curiosities revealed the wonders of nature and human civilization for the first time. Continue reading

Colin Ward – an obituary and appreciation of the chuckling anarchist

Colin Ward (1924-2010), the gentlest anarchist of them all.

Colin Ward was one the greatest anarchist thinkers of the past half century and a pioneering social historian. He died earlier this month at the age of eighty-five, leaving a legacy of over thirty books and a huge following of activists, educators and writers – amongst them myself – who were inspired by his approach to radical social change, which always favoured practical, grass-roots action over utopian dreamings of revolution. The outpouring of obituaries in The Guardian and elsewhere are testimony to his influence. Continue reading

How an industrial designer discovered the elderly

There is a long tradition of developing empathy through direct experience of other people’s lives. Much of it has been aimed at understanding the lives of those living in poverty.  In the late 1920s George Orwell dressed up as a tramp and wandered the streets of East London with vagabonds and beggars, a period of his life described in his book Down and Out in Paris and London. More recently, the British journalist Polly Toynbee wrote about her time trying out a variety of minimum wage jobs (Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain), a path also followed by the American social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America).

These examples are well known. So I would like to tell you about one of the most extraordinary forgotten instances of experiential empathetic adventuring. It happened exactly forty years ago.
Continue reading