Jamil Zaki - The War for Kindness (Corte Madera Store)

Thursday, June 13, 2019 - 7:00pm

Our modern society is practically designed to destroy empathy. As cities grow and solitary living becomes more common, we see more people than ever before, but know fewer of them. Rituals that bring us into regular contact—attending church, participating in team sports—have given way to solitary pursuits, often carried out over the Internet. When we encounter someone online, the first thing we often learn about them is what we like the least. They are enemies before they have a chance to be people.

Amid these toxic social forces, studies demonstrate that the average person’s empathy has eroded over the last forty years. Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, has dedicated his career to understanding why. “Being a psychologist studying empathy today is like being a climatologist studying the polar ice,” Zaki writes. “Each year we discover more about how valuable it is, just as it recedes all around us.” In The War for Kindness, he uses his groundbreaking research to explain how society can address the empathy deficit and fight back against tribalism, isolation, and exhaustion.

Zaki begins by giving us an entirely new understanding of how empathy works. It has long been thought to be a hardwired trait, which people either have or don’t have. However, as Zaki and other scientists have demonstrated, empathy is in fact more like a skill, which can be taught, strengthened, and adapted to the modern world. “With the right treatments—medicines, if you will—we can grow a more muscular kind of empathy, and broaden our kindness along the way,” Zaki says.

The War for Kindness opens very personally. Zaki’s parents went through a long, bitter divorce beginning when he was eight. A tumultuous childhood served as a sort of “empathy gym” for his young brain as he worked hard to stay connected to both his mother and father. Throughout the book, Zaki takes us to both the lab and out into the world. We visit Washington State’s police academy, where trainers use actors to simulate crime scenes, teaching cops to behave more like guardians and less like warriors. We spend time with a former member of the White Aryan Resistance, who was befriended by a Jewish teacher, reformed, and later founded an organization that helps others leave hate groups. We sit in on a rehearsal of the San Francisco Young Performers Theatre to see how teenagers learn to inhabit different perspectives and grow their social skills along the way. We learn how a Rwandan radio soap opera helped heal the collective trauma of that country’s genocide. And we observe NICU physicians and nurses learning to help families through their hardest moments without drowning in their own pain.

Fighting for kindness is not easy. But in The War for Kindness, 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.”

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.

51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA 94925
The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World Cover Image
ISBN: 9780451499240
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Crown - June 4th, 2019

“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