Grow Your Empathy

Empathy is a skill: something you can improve with the right practices. This is one of the fundamental arguments of Jamil Zaki’s War for Kindness. Those who partake in regular meditation see measurable growth in their empathy, emotional intelligence and attention span. Just reading this argument might even shift you to being slightly more empathetic. Particularly if you thought empathy was a static personality trait beforehand.

Right now, very few people are ‘good’ at empathy. As a society we are far less empathetic than even a single generation ago; this is a measured reality across every country that has data for it. Explanations vary. Where we once lived in tight-knit communities with people we know, now we are increasingly urban, surrounded by people yet isolated. Where once nearly all of our time was spent together, in person; now much of it is spent on screentime: which Zaki calls “thin gruel compared to good old fashioned face to face contact.” Social norms prioritise greed over kindness. And other factors, too.

War for Kindness offers some concrete strategies to hone your own empathetic abilities and then help those around you to do the same. Above all, make time to be untethered. Reading, daydreaming, reminiscing, meditating – all can untether you from your present reality. Time spent in that state grows empathy. Taking on other people’s perspectives is an even more direct route. Actors are empaths, first and foremost. Avid fiction readers are better at emotional recognition than people who don’t lose themselves in a novel regularly.

Zaki: “It’s easy to live in a less intentional way. Building a new sort of empathy takes effort and sacrifice, for people who might not repay it. But in the face of escalating cruelty and isolation, we are fighting for our moral lives. Doing what’s easy is seldom worthwhile, and in moments like these, it’s dangerous. We each have a choice, and the sum of our choices will create the future. What are you going to do?”

This is the first blog post related to a series I am making called Reading For The Aspirational Self. Don’t think of this as book summaries – I’m not doing that. Instead, I’m drawing out specific lessons that I find particularly interesting. And which I think could act, together, to help people who share my aspirations. If you, too, want to be present, family-centric, intrinsically motivated and polymathic, I can help.

  • The most distilled version of what I’m offering is a free mailing list designed for learning, “Think On Thursday” – each e-mail will include a lesson designed around the content. Click here for some information on that.
  • The series is also on YouTube in the form of 7-12 minute videos. Here’s the channel link. This week’s video and transcript is below.
  • I’m tweeting excerpts from the videos, as well as some of the story of this project, how we’re doing it, and where it is going, on Twitter. @DaveCBeck

If you just want to know more about War for Kindness take a look at Zaki’s website here: The Data tab is particularly interesting – he evaluates the evidence behind each of the claims made in the book.

Boats and Books,