The War for Kindness
Building Empathy in a Fractured World
Most people think empathy is a trait—you have it or you don’t. But it’s a skill that anyone can get better at, says Jamil Zaki, a Stanford psychologist and one of America’s pre-eminent speakers on empathy. At a time when tribalism, social isolation, and other factors drive us apart, this is insight worth acting on. Drawing from his new, acclaimed book The War for Kindness, Zaki offers an exciting take on empathy—and how to enhance it.
“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
As Director of Stanford’s Social Neuroscience Lab and author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Jamil Zaki has earned a reputation as one of the most sensible, forward-thinking, and requested speakers on empathy in the world. With palpable warmth and straightforward exercises that can be swiftly implemented, he shows keynote audiences how empathy in action can change our professional, creative, and personal relationships—and how we can get better at it, and be open to it, every day of our lives. “Jamil Zaki is one of the bright lights in psychology, and in this gripping book, he shows that kindness is not a sign of weakness but a source of strength,” says Adam Grant, bestselling author and professor at Wharton.
Empathic people are better at work, Zaki says, especially when the jobs involve contact with other people—such as managers, salespeople, healthcare staff, anyone who works in a team. But empathy is on the declin throughout society: study after study shows that our collective empathy has eroded. He calls it “compassion collapse,”—limitations on the human ability to empathize for groups of people who we don’t easily identify with. “Being a psychologist studying empathy today can feel like a climatologist studying the polar icecaps,” says Zaki in his much-praised TED talk. “We discover the value of something just as it disappears all around us.” But our ability to reclaim a sense of connection is within reach. We can hack our sense of empathy, he argues. To Zaki, this also means acknowledging the good—like the “kindness contagion,” which his current research shows we are all responsive too: seeing others enact kindness, which spurs a cascading and unifying effect in communities of any size and stripe.
At Stanford, where he is also an assistant professor of psychology, Zaki’s unique work spans a number of domains, including social influence and prosocial behavior. New research from his lab examines how to encourage empathy for people from distant political and ethnic groups, and also how caregivers and healthcare professionals can effectively empathize with their patients while maintaining their own wellbeing. Zaki received his BA from Boston University, his Ph.D. from Columbia University, and postdoctoral training at Harvard University.