On episode 241 of The Nurse Keith Show, Nurse Keith interviews the amazing Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab. Using tools from psychology and neuroscience, he and his colleagues examine how empathy works and how people can learn to empathize more effectively. His writing on these topics has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and their two daughters. His new book, The War for Kindness, has been featured on NPR’s Hidden Brain podcast (one of my personal favorites), as well as in Mashable, the Washington Post, The Economist, Harvard Business Review, and many other platforms.
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 shares cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort. He also tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, 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.
Fighting for kindness is not easy, but Zaki presents the science and the tools that could help us reverse the empathy decline, and emphasizes why we must try. “In five years, or one, the world could be a meaner place or a kinder one. Our social fabric could further tear or start to mend,” Zaki writes. “But if we succumb to our lazier emotional instincts, we will all suffer more. The direction we take—and our collective fate—depends, in a real way, on what each of us decides to feel.”
Things of note mentioned during the episode:
- The three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional, and empathic concern
- Wit, a film directed by Mike Nichols and starring Emma Watson; Keith highly recommends Wit as a dramatization of empathy (and its lack)
- Eve Ekman, PhD, MSW
- Post-traumatic growth
- The triple bottom line: people, planet, and profits
Please follow and connect with Professor Zaki: