How can empathy counteract political discord and alienation? According to Jamil Zaki, the answer is building it into our institutions and interactions. The Economist’s Open Future Initiative spoke with Zaki on how we can begin to heal our fractured society, starting with his new book The War for Kindness.
Empathy is the “psychological super-glue” that connects people, according to Jamil Zaki, Stanford psychologist and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Unfortunately, it appears that empathy is a skill we’re rapidly losing. “Counteracting these trends means putting people in the position to replace ‘us and them’ with ‘you and I,’ as well as the incentives to see outsiders as people, rather than mere symbols of their group,” Zaki explained to The Economist. “One reliable way to do this is to bring people from different groups together under egalitarian circumstances and with shared goals.”
The first step in re-learning empathy is understanding that it is under our control; the second is identifying its value and benefit. Empathetic individuals often experience greater happiness, less stress, and greater professional success: “Poetically, one of the best ways we can help ourselves starts with caring for each other.”