As part of the lead-in to the official launch of the Empathy Museum later this year, we are holding our first ever event this coming Sunday, May 10 at the renowned Whitechapel Gallery in East London.
The Human Library is part of Refashion East, a weekend of events exploring London’s fashion industry from its historic roots in the East End rag trade.
Visitors will have a chance to step into the shoes of those who create the fashion industry by ‘borrowing’ them for a one to one conversation. A Human Library is like any other library, except that all the Books are people with a story to share – Living Books. There will be 20 Living Books on the shelves of the Whitechapel Gallery, telling stories from their unique perspective of the fashion business. You might find yourself speaking with a Primark sales assistant, an 80-year-old fabric merchant, a high-end tailor, a fashion designer, an up-cycler or a cobbler.
Find out more about the Refashion East weekend in Time Out.
The Empathy Museum is an experiential project exploring the art of empathy through stepping into the shoes of other people and looking at the world though their eyes. Discover what it’s all about in our video.
‘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.’
What 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 →
Want to put empathy to work in your relationships? How can empathy boost personal wellbeing? Find out in this three-minute video below, based on my new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution. (Sorry, the video doesn’t work on some phones – you’ll need to look at it on a laptop or desktop.)
My new talk from TEDx Athens has just gone online – How to Start an Empathy Revolution. From human libraries to babies teaching empathy, here are the ingredients for transforming empathy into a force for social change. I hope you enjoy it! Please share with friends, family, colleagues and strangers.
Empathy has a reputation as a fuzzy, feel-good emotion that many people associate in some vague way with everyday kindness. So it comes as something as a surprise when major political figures start talking about it as a key to resolving violent conflicts and peace building. This was exactly the point that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made in a recent article in the Guardian. Continue reading →
This is the video of a talk I gave at the Royal Society of the Arts, which describes six ways to expand our empathic potential, drawing on everything from the empathy experiments of George Orwell to developments in industrial design, from the struggle against slavery in the eighteenth century to the Middle East crisis today. Discover why the 21st century needs to become the Age of Outrospection.
The full version of this talk is available as a podcast.
I am in the midst of a long-term project to document instances when empathy has flowered on a mass scale and shifted the course of human history. While empathy has periodically collapsed on a collective scale – just think of colonialism in Latin America or the Holocaust – there have also been moments when it has emerged as a force for positive and radical social change. If we want to tackle today’s global crises – from wealth inequality and armed conflict to climate change and food insecurity – we need to learn from the past and understand how empathy can be harnessed as a powerful tool to shift human behaviour and ignite social action. And one of the most interesting places to look is the evacuation of British children in World War Two. Continue reading →
I was recently interviewed by The Browser – a fabulous site which compiles quality writing from around the web– about my five top books on the art of living. In the following extract I discuss George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London, a book which has been a major inspiration for all my work on empathy.
George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London is your second choice. What does it teach us?
I think that Orwell was one of the great travel adventurers of the 20th century. The reason I think that is because in Down and Out in Paris and London he showed that empathy could become an extreme sport and the guideline for the art of living. It’s the second half of the book that I particularly like, in which he describes how he went tramping in east London. He would dress up as a tramp and go into the streets of London, fraternising with beggars and people living on the streets. He was trying to empathise with people who lived on the social margins. Continue reading →
Browse the self-help shelves of your local book store and you’ll spot that most titles draw on psychology, philosophy and religion for their wisdom. But there is one realm where few of them have sought inspiration: history.
When asking the big questions about life, love, work and death, we sometimes forget that people have been grappling with these issues for centuries – and that means we’re missing out. As Goethe put it, ‘he who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth’.
So how can characters from history help lead our lives in new directions in 2012? Here’s my personal selection of five icons from the past who offer good ideas for better living.
1.Matsuo Basho: make an alternative pilgrimage
The seventeenth-century Japanese poet Basho was a compulsive wanderer who reinvented the art of travel. On one of his pilgrimages, lasting over two years, he naturally visited the holiest Buddhist shrines. But his originality was also to make pilgrimages to non-religious sites that held deep personal meaning for him, such as seeking out the willow trees described by his favourite poets. Continue reading →