Empathy an an Age of Extremism

These feel like turbulent times. From mass shootings in the US to the rise of far-right parties and terrorist attacks in Europe, we seem to be entering a new age of extremism.

If there is any solution to this, I think empathy has to be part of it.

In this new five-minute video for Aeon Magazine, I argue that tackling extremism, and creating a more moral world, requires shifting our focus from empathy as an individual emotional response to empathy on the collective level.

Will you join my campaign against Facebook’s ‘EMPATHY’ button?

Facebook Empathy button

Mark Zuckerberg has just announced Facebook’s plan to introduce an ’empathy’ button alongside the familiar ‘like’ icon which is used 4.5 billion times per day.

In this article in the Guardian, I argue that it’s a big mistake. It would represent the triumph of slacktivism over activism, and leave us emotionally inarticulate and illiterate.

Please join my campaign against the ’empathy’ button by sharing this article, especially on Facebook.

Roman Krznaric is the author of Empathy (Penguin Random House), and founder of the Empathy Museum.

Image: 2paragraphs

Welcome to the Empathy Wars (or Why Peter Singer is Wrong)

Peter Singer and Roman Krznaric at Blackwell's Bookshop Oxford June 2015The empathy critics are on the rampage. Led by the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom, the anti-empathy brigade claim that empathy is a weak or even distorting force in moral life and public affairs. The most recent convert is Peter Singer, perhaps the world’s most influential moral philosopher and author of classic texts such as Animal Liberation. In a recent public conversation I had with him as part of the Empathy Festival at Blackwell’s Bookshop Oxford (see photo), he argued that ethics should be led by rational thinking rather than empathy (of course, I didn’t agree).

In response to Singer’s claims, I have written an article at Open Democracy, called Welcome to the Empathy Wars. It makes the case that critics like Bloom and Singer are fundamentally mistaken, particularly because they fail to recognise the crucial role that cognitive empathy plays in establishing human rights and social justice.

Do have a look at the article, which is based on my book Empathy, and make up your own mind. Whose side are you in the Empathy Wars?

 

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!

 

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.



 

Are you coming to the Empathy Festival?

Empathy pb cover with border 1

Hello Friends of Empathy! I’ve got a few dates for your diary…

June 4: Empathy paperback launch

The UK paperback of my book Empathy is out this week, and comes with a snappy new subtitle (Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It). Get yourself a copy on Amazon or at your local independent store.

I’m delighted about the book’s impact so far. Organisations like Friends of the Earth have picked up on it, and I’ve been taking the ideas abroad having done book tours in the US, Canada, the Netherlands and most recently Croatia.

It would be great if you could spend two minutes today helping spread word about the paperback release on Twitter, Facebook and face to face. For your convenience, here’s a sample tweet: Want to start an Empathy Revolution? Find the inspiration you need in @romankrznaric’s new book Empathy http://ow.ly/NDSBH 

June 5-11: Empathy Festival at Blackwell’s Bookshop Oxford
I’m curating the world’s first Empathy Festival with the wonderful Blackwell’s Bookshop. I’ll be launching it with a talk on Empathy and Family Life on June 5. Other speakers include philosopher Peter Singer, historian Theodore Zeldin, and radical geographer Danny Dorling. Get your tickets here.

September: Launch of the Empathy Museum
I’m also pleased to announce that my Empathy Museum project will be launching in September, masterminded by its brilliant director, the world-renowned artist and curator Clare Patey. It will start in a mobile eco bus containing an Empathy Shoe Shop, which will travel around the country and host events such as Human Libraries. We’ll then be taking the Empathy Museum to the Perth International Arts Festival in Australia in February. Watch the video, check out the website, and sign up for updates.

I hope to see you somewhere on the empathy trail, and thanks for helping to spread the word.

Roman

 

Is Empathy the Cure for Our Consumer Addictions?

Empathy Effect cover

How can we harness the power of empathy to tackle the really big global problems like wealth inequality, ecological crisis and our addiction to consumer culture? You’ll find the answers in my new report for Friends of the Earth called The Empathy Effect: How Empathy Drives Common Values, Social Justice and Environmental Action.

The report, which builds on my book Empathy (but goes far beyond it) is part of Friends of the Earth’s exciting Big Ideas project that is drawing together the key ideas and insights we need to create a sustainable future for humankind. It challenges the belief that empathy is a fuzzy feel-good emotion and argues that with a bit of smart thinking it can be transformed into an innovative and powerful campaigning tool.

Here are four fascinating facts from the report, just to give you a taster:

  • The wealthier you are the less empathic you are likely to be, and people with psychopathic tendencies who lack empathy are four times more commonly found amongst senior executives than in the ordinary workforce.
  • Teaching empathy skills to school kids (yes, it can be done) not only makes them value relationships more, but increases their motivation to take action on environmental issues and immunises them against the lure of consumer culture.
  • A review of more than 500 studies showed that in 96% of cases, face-to-face contact between people of different ethnic and religious groups reduced prejudices and social divisions, and built community solidarity.
  • Over 7 million people have visited the empathy-based exhibit Dialogue in the Dark , which challenges assumptions and stereotypes around disability.

Overall, the report argues that building a world where we care more about the issues that matter to all of us – from grinding poverty to environmental collapse – requires using empathy to create a cultural shift from buying to belonging, where we jettison the hyperindividualism of the twentieth century and start to take collective values seriously. But there are no quick-fix solutions. We need to embark on a generational project of ‘deep lobbying’ that overhauls our education systems and sets us on course for a more empathic civilisation.

You can download the full report here.

Roman Krznaric is the author of Empathy, and founder of the Empathy Museum and Empathy Library.

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.

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.

 

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