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The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World

Jamil Zaki

8 Reviews

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Popular science, Self-help & personal development, Popular psychology

At the forefront of empathy research, Dr. Jamil Zaki has made an important discovery: empathy is flexible.

Empathy has been on people's mind a lot lately. Philosophers, evolutionary scientists and indeed former President Obama agree that an increase in empathy could advance us beyond the hatred, violence and polarization in which the world seems caught. Others disagree, arguing it is easiest to empathize with people who look, talk or think like us. As a result, empathy can inspire nepotism, racism and worse.

Having studied the neuroscience and psychology of empathy for over a decade, Jamil Zaki thinks both sides of this debate have a point. Empathy is sometimes an engine for moral progress, and other times for moral failure. But Zaki also thinks that both sides are wrong about how empathy works.

Both scientists and non-scientists commonly argue that empathy is something that happens to you, sort of like an emotional knee-jerk reflex. Second, they believe it happens more to some people than others. This lines people up along a spectrum, with deep empaths on one end and psychopaths on the other. What's more, wherever we are on that spectrum, we're stuck there.

In THE WAR FOR KINDNESS, Zaki lays out a very different view of how empathy works, one that breaks these two assumptions. Empathy is not a reflex; it's a choice. We choose empathy (or apathy) constantly: when we read a tragic novel, or cross the street to avoid a homeless person, or ask a distraught friend what's the matter. This view has crucial consequences: if empathy is less a trait (like height), and more a skill (like being good at word games), then we can improve at it. By choosing it more often, we can flex our capabilities and grow more empathic over time. We can also "tune" empathy, ramping it up in situations where it will help and turning it down when it might backfire.

Zaki takes us from the world of doctors who train medical students to empathise better to social workers who help each other survive empathising too much. From police trainers who help cadets avoid becoming violent cops to political advocates who ask white Americans to literally walk a (dusty) mile in Mexican immigrants' shoes. This book will give you a deepened understanding of how empathy works, how to control it and how to become the type of empathiser you want to be.

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Praise for The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World

  • 'In this landmark book, Jamil Zaki gives us a revolutionary perspective on empathy: Empathy can be developed, and, when it is, people, relationships, organisations and cultures are changed' - Carol Dweck, author of Mindset

  • 'In this masterpiece, Jamil Zaki weaves together the very latest science with stories that will stay in your heart forever' - Angela Duckworth, author of Grit

  • 'Zaki is a compelling writer, and even an android could not help but respond to his prose. . . . Zaki's goals go beyond sharing the science of empathy with the masses. He hopes to inspire people to actually practice more kindness in their lives' - Science

  • 'Jamil Zaki is one of the brightest lights in psychology, and in this gripping book he shows that kindness is not a sign of weakness but a source of strength' - Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and Originals

  • 'Beautifully written and deeply felt, The War for Kindness is an outstanding scientific analysis of our species' best and last hope for survival - our unique ability to care about each other' - Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness

  • 'With alarming evidence of our society's rapidly diminishing empathy, Zaki draws on decades of clinical research, along with experiments conducted at his lab, to consider the forces that impact our modern condition... an urgent message' - Kirkus Reviews

  • 'Zaki's heart-of-the-matter writing style relates complex emotion in clear, direct language. He walks his own fine line, between significant research findings and his personal emotional and empathic responses. His research and his book are worthy' - Booklist

  • 'Seamlessly stitching together his own experiences with fascinating stories and research from around the globe, Jamil lays out the irrefutable evidence for what we may already instinctively be sensing . . . that in these uncertain times, our ability to cultivate empathy for one another is not only possible, it's necessary. A must read for anyone willing to peek under the hood of the human heart' - Amanda Palmer

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