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!

 

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

Who are the five greatest empathy heroes of all time?

5 empathy heroes

Who are the greatest empathy heroes of all time? I’ve looked through the history books and come up with my top five. OK, you know St Francis of Assisi, but what about Gunther Walraff, Beatrice Webb or John Howard Griffin? You can find out all about them in my new article at YES! Magazine.

I’ve been rather busy with my electronic pen and have written another article, in Time Magazine, on five ways to be more empathic. My advice ranges from chatting to your local barista to introducing empathy tests in the office and getting babies to teach your kids how to step into other people’s shoes.

These articles are based on my book just published in the US, Empathy: Why It Matters and How to Get It.

 

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.

6 Ways to Teach Yourself Empathy

6WaystoTeachYourselfEmpathy‘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.’

Roman Krznaric’s new book, Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, is published by Random House.

Sherlock Holmes and the lost history of empathy

Sherlock HolmesHere’s a new podcast from the rather wonderful Aeon Magazine, in which philosopher Jules Evans explores the theme of empathy. I kick off by talking about the history of empathy, tracing the concept from Adam Smith’s ideas in the 18th century and through developments in child psychology over the past hundred years. Then comes Maria Konnikova, who makes the case that Sherlock Holmes was a master of the art of empathy, based on her new book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes. Finally there is novelist Tobias Jones, who discusses his attempts to create an empathic community at his home in Somerset.

Empathy Stories: How to watch TV in Samoa

I have recently begun collecting stories of empathy experiences from around the world for a new book I am writing. Here is one of the latest, in which Antonina Elliott, a graphic designer who lives in New Zealand, describes a memory from a family visit to Samoa when she was five years old. 

I have never truly stopped to consider the importance of empathy in my life until now. In recent events, my actions and words have hurt family and friends and left a trail of broken relationships in my wake, resulting in me seriously doubting whether I ever possessed any empathy at all.

Questions about my empathic capabilities have plagued my mind but a childhood memory of mine gives me hope. Continue reading

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

The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

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.

The ideas in this talk are discussed in my new book Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It.

I published an article summarising some of these ideas at the Greater Good Science Center.