The War for Kindness | Jamil Zaki

Summary of: The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World
By: Jamil Zaki


Embark on an insightful journey into the realms of empathy with ‘The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World.’ Discover the power of psychological mobilism and how, contrary to popular belief, empathy can be nurtured and developed. Explore how slight shifts in perspective can lead to increased understanding and empathy for others. This summary delves into methods such as peer-to-peer empathy, contact theory, impactful storytelling, and even technology to enhance empathy, transforming it into a foundation for building a more caring and compassionate world.

The Power of Psychological Mobilism

Empathy is not something we are born with, but something that can be cultivated through psychological mobilism. This is the belief that we can change our traits, rather than being fixed in them. Children of empathetic parents tend to have a stronger sense of generosity and concern for strangers. Psychological mobilism is backed by research and can easily boost empathy levels simply by converting to this belief. Becoming a mobilist can lead to increased empathy towards everyone, not just those who look like us.

Empathy Through Perspective

Developing empathy through small shifts in behavior and perspective is key, and techniques such as nudges and metta meditation can help.

Have you ever wondered how much control we have over our emotions – can we choose our reactions or are they automatic? The idea that we can control our emotional states through rational thought may seem crazy, but it’s not. We’re constantly choosing how to feel, depending on a situation. So, how can we proactively choose empathy? One way is through nudges – small changes in behaviour that can lead to a better approach in life. Psychologist Dan Batson’s study on AIDS victims showed that playing a recording of an HIV afflicted woman made participants feel more empathetic not just towards her but also towards others living with the disease. Another powerful way of cultivating empathy is through metta – loving-kindness meditation. Neuroscientist Tania Singer conducted a two-year intensive training program involving metta, where paired participants practice empathy through attention, pinpointing emotions and acts of generosity. By the end of the program, participants showed a remarkable improvement in attention span, empathy, and activation of empathy-related parts in the brain. These techniques help us shift our perspective and build empathy.

The Power of Cooperative Contact

In a world that seems to be divided along every line imaginable, is it possible to bridge our differences and find common ground? According to the author, increased cooperative contact with people who differ from us can increase our empathy for them. The key is to develop self-compassion and compassion for others.

One example of this is the story of Tony McAleer, a former skinhead who found redemption through a friendship with a Jewish man. McAleer’s story is not unique, as many hate group members lack self-compassion and are open to change when shown acceptance and understanding from others.

However, contact theory does not always work. Sometimes it can even make tensions between groups worse. To foster understanding, it is crucial to flip the power structure and give a voice to those who are often silenced.

An experiment showed the power of giving voice to those who are silenced. Mexican immigrants and white US citizens were paired up, with one person writing about their hardships and the other reflecting and responding. When minorities were given the opportunity to voice their own troubles, they felt better about whites and were more open to understanding them.

In conclusion, the power of cooperative contact should not be underestimated. By developing compassion for ourselves and others, we can bridge the gap between different groups and learn to see each other as complex individuals with similar struggles.

The Empathy-Boosting Power of Stories

Fictional stories can increase empathy and understanding to people who encounter difficulties in life. A program called Changing Lives Through Literature was established to help ex-convicts be reintegrated back to the society. These convicts joined reading groups that involved classic tales of redemption and loss. This program had a success rate of reoffending of only 20 percent compared to 45 percent in a comparable group. Stories of reconciliation, such as in the radio drama New Dawn, proved that fiction can help people overcome ethnic tensions and prejudices. Researchers discovered that New Dawn listeners had increased empathy towards both Hutus and Tutsis compared to other radio programs. These shows have the potential to build trust and respect among different communities.

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