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?

 

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.



 

Empathy Museum hosts ‘Human Library’ at Whitechapel Gallery


EM website logo

 

Ever visited a Human Library?

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.

You can get your tickets here – be quick, they are in short supply. 

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.

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

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.

 

Let’s base World Cup teams on star sign and shoe size!

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, whose birthday is on February 5, would be a star player in the Aquarius zodiac team.

As football fever envelops the planet, with all eyes turned towards Brazil, I want you to imagine a different World Cup. Each country sends their national team as usual, but then all the players are pooled together and divided into teams based on their astrological star sign. So Virgos play Leos, and Aquarians are pitted against Aries, with each team having players from a mix of countries. Who would win overall? Perhaps the power of Taurus, the bull, would be no match for the sharp sting of Scorpio. We might imagine other World Cups, where teams are based on shoe size – the clodhopping size elevens against the nimble-toed eights – or maybe the favourite colour of each player. Continue reading

Why George Orwell Became A Tramp

It was exactly 30 years ago that George Orwell set the opening of his novel 1984: ‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’ Most people know Orwell for this novel, and his satirical tale Animal Farm. Less well known is that he was one of the great empathic adventurers of the twentieth century. In the following short clip from my RSA Animate The Power of Outrospection, I describe how Orwell learned to step into other people’s shoes when he became a tramp on the streets of East London in the late 1920s. Orwell was one of the major inspirations for my new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution.

Here’s the one minute clip.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

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UPDATE! Empathy Sermon at The School of Life (with Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone)

So sorry folks but in the blog post I just sent you about my recent Empathy Sermon at The School of Life many people couldn’t see the embedded video in their email. So here is the post again but this time including a link to the video. Big apologies. Hope you enjoy it…

It was a huge privilege and pleasure to give one of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons at London’s historic Conway Hall recently. Last time I’d been there was to discuss the power of vulnerability with emotions researcher Brené Brown. This time I was there to talk about my new book Empathy, but that was just part of it. The 500-strong congregation stood at the beginning and end to sing two great empathy-related songs: Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. There were even little shoe-shaped biscuits from Biscuiteers

Here’s the video from the Sermon in full, where I talk about the six habits of highly empathic people and how to make them part of your everyday life.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

BUY THE BOOK (UK)
FIND OUT MORE

Empathy Sermon at The School of Life (with Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone)

It was a huge privilege and pleasure to give one of The School of Life’s Sunday Sermons at London’s historic Conway Hall recently. Last time I’d been there was to discuss the power of vulnerability with emotions researcher Brené Brown. This time I was there to talk about my new book Empathy, but that was just part of it. The 500-strong congregation stood at the beginning and end to sing two great empathy-related songs: Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City and Nina Simone’s Feeling Good. There were even little shoe-shaped biscuits from Biscuiteers

Here’s the video from the Sermon in full, where I talk about the six habits of highly empathic people and how to make them part of your everyday life.

Roman Krznaric’s new book Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution is out now.

BUY THE BOOK (UK)
FIND OUT MORE