Learning to Care: Lavin Speaker Jamil Zaki Challenges Us to Exercise Kindness
Can human beings teach themselves to become kinder? According to science, all signs point to yes. Stanford psychologist and author of The War For Kindness Jamil Zaki has designed a week-long kindness challenge to push people outside of their comfort zones—and into connection with each other.
Humans are the world-class champions of empathy, superior to every other being on the planet when it comes to understanding and helping one another. That being said, practicing empathy isn’t always easy, and the conditions of modern life—ubiquitous technology, heightened stress, social polarity—have made it even harder to connect. In The War For Kindness, Jamil Zaki reveals that contrary to our cultural beliefs, empathy is more like a skill than a fixed trait—meaning that, just like any muscle, it can be strengthened with a little bit of hard work. As a result, Zaki has developed the Kindness Challenge: a series of exercises designed to stretch your empathy muscles and help you connect to one another.
The experiment originates from a class Zaki taught at Stanford—a ten-week experiment exploring generosity, goodwill, and empathy from both a scientific and personal perspective. In an article for the San Francisco Chronicle, Zaki writes, “I designed ‘Becoming Kinder’ as an empathy gym for my students. At the end of each week, I handed them a ‘kindness challenge,’ designed to help them push past their social comfort zones and connect with others in new ways.”
“My own research demonstrates that simply believing empathy is a skill, rather than an innate trait, inspires people to try harder at it, even connecting with people of different races or political persuasions. My students worked at kindness and grew as a result. If more of us follow suit, we have a chance to mend our social fabric.”