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Welcome back.

When you ask people what the most important


social problems are facing society and the world, some of
the most common answers you get are war and terrorism, poverty,
prejudice and social injustice, violations of human rights, civil rights,
women's rights, human trafficking, partner violence, child abuse.
What's interesting about this list is that every single problem
on it arises, in part, from a lack of empathy.
And every problem would be greatly reduced
if people felt more empathy toward one another.
Now, what do I mean by empathy?
Well, as you'll see later in this video, in an animated guest lecture
by author Roman Krznaric, psychologists generally think
about empathy in one of two ways.
The first, which is sometimes called affective empathy,
has to do with feeling the emotions that someone else feels --
what's sometimes called emotional matching.
If you feel happy and I empathize,
I feel happy. If you feel upset, I feel upset, too.
The other type of empathy, sometimes called cognitive empathy,
has to do with imagining how someone else thinks or feels,
or imagining what you would think or feel
if you were in that person's position.
With cognitive empathy, you're taking the perspective
of someone else regardless of whether
you're experiencing the same emotions or not.
And of course, thinking and feeling
usually go together, so some psychologists talk
about empathy as one general trait
that has both affective and cognitive components.
Do these distinctions really matter?
Well, in some cases they do.
For instance, a 2010 brain imaging study found that
when people saw racial ingroup and outgroup members
who were suffering -- for example, from a natural disaster --
affective empathy was common across the board,
but people's level of cognitive empathy depended on their group identity.
When people lack empathy -- whether cognitive or affective empathy --
all sorts of things can go wrong.
A lack of empathy is associated with prejudice, aggression, bullying,
child molestation, and abusive parenting, just to name a few examples.
For instance, in a study that compared abusive and
non-abusive mothers, empathy scores accurately
classified 80% of abusive mothers.
In fact, empathy scores predicted child abuse even better than life stress,
contrary to the stereotype that abusive parents are so
stressed out that at some point they snap and lose control.
What's more important than stress is
whether parents can empathize with children,
see the world from a kid's perspective, and feel what children feel.
Interestingly, Barack Obama has, for many years,
commented on the societal importance of empathy.
I'll play for you two brief excerpts of commencement
speeches in which he talks about this.
The first is from a speech in 2006, when he addressed graduating students from
Northwestern University and spoke about the need to overcome deficits in empathy.
>> You know, there's a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit.
And I think it's important for us to talk about that,
but I think we should talk more about another deficit,
what I call the "empathy deficit" --
the ability to put ourselves in somebody else's shoes,
to see the world through those who are different from us:
the child who's hungry, the laid-off steel worker,
the immigrant woman who's cleaning up your dorm room.
>> The next clip comes from a 2008 commencement
speech that he gave to students at the school
where I teach: Wesleyan University.
At one point, you can even see me in
the faculty area about six meters away from the podium.
And I've included in the video a little
hint about what I was thinking at the time.
One thing that I especially like about this clip, is that he focuses
on the positive consequences of empathy
in terms of a vehicle for self-improvement. Take a look.
>> There were many times where
I wasn't sure where I was going, or what I was going to do with my life.
But during my first two years of college,
perhaps because the values my mother had taught me,
values of hard work, and honesty and empathy,
and compassion had finally resurfaced after a long hibernation.
Or perhaps because of the example of wonderful teachers and
lasting friends, I began to notice a world beyond myself.
Our individual salvation depends on collective salvation.
Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate
wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition.
Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something
larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.
>> Okay, maybe that wasn't exactly what I was thinking at the time,
but I do remember being amazed to hear a
presidential candidate emphasizing the importance of empathy.
Now of course, having empathy doesn't mean
that you'll never become involved in a conflict.
For example, a political leader might empathize with one side in
a conflict, only to make enemies out of the other side.
Life is messy.
But the research record does suggest that
empathic people enjoy a number of advantages.
People high in empathy not only tend to be less prejudiced
and aggressive, but they and their life partners
tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction.
They're also more likely to intervene in bystander emergency situations.
They imagine what that victim might be going through.
And people high in cognitive empathy, or perspective taking,
tend to reach much better negotiated outcomes,
in part because they're less likely to
deadlock when bargaining with the other side.
So empathy is something of a magic bullet,
meaning that it works across a wide variety of situations.
And in this regard, it's interesting that so many cultures, religions,
and philosophies, recognize the central importance of empathy.
For example, there's the Native American saying about
not judging other people until you've walked a mile in their moccasins,
advice that kind of reminds me of research on the fundamental
attribution error and the need to consider situational explanations for behavior.
There's the importance of oneness in eastern religions and philosophies.
And of course, there's the Golden Rule in
Judeo-Christian, Islamic and Asian traditions.
So if empathy really is that important, are there ways to develop it?
Absolutely.
Even though empathy is in part genetic, there's no question
that it can be increased through training, through
practice, and through certain lifestyle habits.
For example, neuroimaging studies have found that
meditation enhances the activation of brain areas that
are involved in emotional processing and empathy.
And there's strong evidence that children can be taught to be more empathic,
and that school-based empathy training programs
reduce children's level of aggression and prejudice.
In fact, simply taking the perspective of other people can have immediate effects,
such as the elimination of actor observer differences in attribution.
For observers to take the perspective of actors, all it requires is a little bit
of imagination and the desire to see things from another person's point of view.
The magic bullet is available.
Speaking personally, this is how I teach.
I try to imagine being a student in one of my courses, and I ask myself,
"What would that student want?" In most cases, the answer is cartoons.
And so, I'm very pleased to introduce an animated guest lecture by Roman Krznaric.
Seriously, it is animated, but in fact, it's packed with very interesting ideas.
It's not only about empathy, but it's about the idea of outrospection.
And it'll take us the rest of the way through this video.
I hope you enjoy.
The 20th century I see as the age of introspection.
That was the era in which the self-help industry
and therapy culture told us that the best way
to discover who we are and what to
do with our lives was to look inside ourselves --
to gaze at our own navels.
What we've discovered of course is that
that has not delivered the good life. So the 21st century
needs to be different. Instead of the age of introspection,
we need to shift to the age of outrospection.
And by "outrospection" I mean the idea of discovering who
you are and what to do with your life by stepping outside yourself,
discovering the lives of other people, other civilizations.
And the ultimate art form to the age of outrospection is empathy.
I want to talk about what empathy is, why it matters,
and ultimately, how we can expand our empathic potential.
Of course, empathy is more popular today as
a concept than at any point in its history.
Barack Obama's been talking for several years now about America's
empathy deficit. You've got business people talking about empathy marketing.
The neuroscientists are measuring the empathy parts of our brains.
But I think what we need to do is focus more on two things.
First, the way that empathy can be part of the art of living --
a philosophy of life. Empathy isn't just something
that expands your moral universe.
Empathy is something that can make you a more creative thinker,
improve your relationships, can create the human bonds that make life worth living.
But more than that, empathy is also about social change, radical social change.
A lot of people think of empathy as sort of a nice,
soft, fluffy concept. I think it's anything but that.
I think it's actually quite dangerous, because empathy can create revolution.
Not one of those old fashion revolutions of new states,
policies, governments, laws, but something much more fiery and dangerous,
which is a revolution of human relationships.
Now, if you open a standard psychology
textbook, you'll see two definitions of empathy.
One of them is this:
Affective empathy, empathy as a shared
emotional response, a sort of mirrored response.
So if you look at the face of this child in anguish,
and you too feel anguish, that's affective empathy.
You're mirroring their emotions.
The second kind you'll find
when you open your psychology textbook is this: cognitive empathy,
which is about perspective-taking, about stepping into somebody else's world,
almost like an actor looking through the eyes of their character.
It's about understanding somebody else's world view,
their beliefs, the fears, the experiences
that shape how they look at the world and how they look at themselves.
We make assumptions about people. We have prejudices about people,
which block us from seeing their uniqueness, their individuality.
We use labels, and highly empathic people get beyond that,
or get beyond those labels, by nurturing their curiosity about others.
So, how might we nurture our curiosity? Where can we find inspiration?
I think we can find inspiration in George Orwell,
who you might think of as, you know, the author of "1984" and "Animal Farm."
But he was also one of the great empathic adventurers of the 20th century.
You might remember, or might know, that he came from a very privileged background.
He went to Eton.
He was as a colonial police officer in Burma.
But what he realized in his twenties was that he knew very little
about his own country -- particularly about the way that
those people living on the social margins really experience life.
So he decided to do something about it and conduct one of the most brilliant
empathy experiments, which was to go tramping on the streets of East London.
He wrote about this famously in his book, "Down and Out in Paris and London."
But the important thing about Orwell's experience was that it not only
expanded his moral universe (he became a more compassionate person),
but it also cultivated his curiosity about strangers.
He developed new friendships, he gathered a whole load
of literary materials he used for the rest of his life.
In a way this empathy adventure, it made him good, but it was also good for him.
Highly empathic people tend to be very sensitive listeners.
They're very good at understanding what somebody else's needs are.
They tend to be also people who
in conversations share part of their own lives,
make conversations two-way dialogues, make themselves vulnerable.
Worth thinking about as well is to think about political conversations.
"It won't stop until we talk."
This is the motto of a grass roots peace-building organization
in Israel and the Palestinian territories called the "Parents Circle."
What it does is bring together Palestinian
and Israeli families who share something very special.
These families have all lost members of their own families in the conflict.
And the parents' circle brings them together for
conversations, picnics, meetings where they share each other's stories.
They discover that they share the same pain, the same blood.
They make that empathic bond. They also have other fantastic projects.
My favorite one is called "Hello Peace." It's a free phone telephone line.
So anybody can pick up and call that number.
If you are a Palestinian and call it, you're immediately
put through to an Israeli. You can have a half hour conversation.
If you are an Israeli and pick it up, you're put through to a Palestinian.
Since 2002 over a million calls have been logged on the Hello Peace free phone
line.
That's the kind of project which is trying to create grassroots empathy.
Now, we normally think of empathy
as something that happens between individuals.
But I also believe it can be a collective force, it can happen on a mass scale.
When I think of history,
I think not of the rise and fall of civilizations and religions
or political systems; I think of the rise and fall of empathy,
moments of mass empathic flowering, and also of course, of empathic collapse.
As you probably know, in the 1780s in Britain,
slavery was an accepted part of society.
People felt that the economy was as dependent
on slavery as our economy is on oil today.
Half a million African slaves were being worked to death on British plantations
in the Caribbean, and nobody thought this could ever be eroded.
But in the late 1780s, there was the rise of the world's first great
human rights movement, and it was a movement powered by empathy.
Its leaders developed a very empathic campaign.
The idea they had was to try and
get people in Britain to experience or understand, at least,
what it was like to be a slave on a slave ship, on a slave plantation.
They published oral stories of former slaves talking about what it
was like to be whipped until they were lying on the ground.
They also ran public meetings where they showed these little instruments,
which were used to keep slaves' jaws open to force feed them.
They organized for former slaves to give talks around Britain
about their experiences, and this led to a sort of
revolutionary social movement really. It led to petitions. It led to
public protests. It led to the first great fair trade boycott of sugar.
Eventually, it led to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and later slavery
itself.
What this all led to, or what it really showed, was that empathy
could be a collective force.
We normally think of empathy as empathizing with the down and out,
the poor and marginalized, those on the edges of society.
I think we need to be more adventurous in who we try to empathize with.
I think we need to empathize with those in power.
We need to understand how those in power, in whatever realm it is,
think about the world and their lives and their ambitions.
We need to understand their values.
Only then are we going to be able to develop effective
strategies for social, political, and economic transformation.
Equally, I think we need to apply our more ambitious thinking
in policy realms, such as thinking about climate change.
We all know there's a huge gap between what we know about climate change
and the amount of action that people are taking (i.e., not very much).
I think that gap is explained by empathy in two forms.
I think there's an empathic gap in terms of
we're not empathizing across space with people in developing
countries, like in India who, people who have been
hit by climate change induced floods or droughts in Kenya.
And almost more importantly perhaps, we are
failing to empathize through time with future generations.
I think we need to learn to expand our empathic imaginations forwards
through time, as well as across space. How're we going to do it?
I think we need new social institutions.
We need, for example, empathy museums. A place which is not about dusty exhibits
(you know, like an old Victorian museum) but an
experiential and conversational public space, where you might walk
in and in the first room there is a human library,
where you can borrow people for conversations.
You walk into the next room, and there are 20 sewing machines,
and there are former Vietnamese sweatshop workers there
who will teach you how to make a t-shirt like the one you're probably wearing,
under sweatshop labor conditions, and you'll be paid five pence at the end of it,
so you understand the labor behind the label.
You may well go into the cafe and scan in your food and discover
the working conditions of those who picked the coffee beans,
the drink that you're drinking.
You may see a video of them talking about their lives, trying to make
a connection across space and into realms that you don't know about.
I think we need to think about bringing empathy into
our everyday lives in a very sort of habitual way.
Socrates said that the way to live a wise and good life was to know thyself.
And we've generally thought of that as being about being self-reflective,
looking in at ourselves. It's been about introspection.
But I think in the 21st century,
we need to recognize that to know thyself is something that can also
be achieved by stepping outside yourself, by discovering other people's lives,
and I think empathy is the way to revolutionize our own philosophies of life,
to become more outrospective and to create the revolution
of human relationships that I think we so desperately need.