A Stanford psychologist offers a bold new understanding of empathy, and shows how we can expand our circle of care, even in these divisive times
THE WAR FOR KINDNESS
Building Empathy in a Fractured World
by Jamil Zaki
Crown, June 2019
Empathy is in short supply. Isolation and tribalism are rampant. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, but find it easy to hate them. Studies show that we are less caring than we were even thirty years ago. In 2006, Barack Obama said that the United States is suffering from an “empathy deficit.” Since then, things only seem to have gotten worse. It doesn’t have to be this way. In this groundbreaking book, Jamil Zaki argues that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that we can all strengthen through effort. Drawing on both classic and cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, Zaki shows how we can harness this new mindset to overcome toxic cultural divisions. He also tells the stories of people who are living these principles—fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances. We meet a former neo-Nazi who is now helping extract people from hate groups, ex-prisoners discussing novels with the judge who sentenced them, Washington police officers changing their culture to decrease violence among their ranks, and NICU nurses fine-tuning their empathy so that they don’t succumb to burnout. Written with clarity and passion, The War for Kindness is an inspiring call to action. The future may depend on whether we accept the challenge.
Jamil Zaki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.