It’s been awhile since I wrote a post. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say—far from it!
I could have written about the wonderfully developmental-for-all June residency and graduation of the East Side Institute’s 13th International Class. Or what it was like to be a panelist at the New York premier of the beautifully humanizing film, “Healing Voices.” Or the synergy created with Colombian play and performance activist Dorian Agudelo and his colleagues, when they visited the All Stars Project and spoke for hours with Dan Friedman and me. Or the privilege, challenge and fun of being in public conversation with journalist Robert Whitaker (of Mad in America fame) at a Friday evening Revolutionary Conversation sponsored by the East Side Institute. Or the journeys and dead ends I’ve been creating as I write another chapter of The Overweight Brain. Or the smart and creative people I’m meeting by reading articles taken from a pile on my desk that was getting too high. Or the walks on the Montauk ocean beaches that are, after twenty years, as familiar as home and yet always new.
That’s some of how I spent the past month or so. All the while, I’ve been constantly thinking about empathy. It’s in the news a lot—most often presented as the cure-all for everything from lackluster corporate sales to bullying and violence to political polarization. I know this because I keep seeing articles and newscasts on the topic (following cultural trends that have their basis in psychological and philosophical assumptions is part of my work). In just the past month, dozens of stories and essays on empathy were in the media. These four will give you a sense of the breadth of topics:
“How Practicing Empathy Impacts Your Ability to Lead (Forbes)
“Empathy Key to Service Excellence” (The Nation)
“Trump Supporters and the Empathy Gap (The Washington Post)
“Empathy is Everything” (Huffington Post)
In addition, there have been dozens of reviews of Yale psychologist Paul Bloom’s 2016 book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. (I just ordered it.)
The first time I can remember thinking and talking about empathy was many years ago when I was invited to give a talk on the subject at a university in Iowa. My initial response was, “Hmm. Empathy. Does that mean you have to feel what someone else feels? I don’t think that’s possible.” I began to read some to learn how people understood and used the term, where it originated, and what it meant to psychologists, therapists, philosophers, artists and others. I asked Fred Newman (therapist, philosopher and artist rolled into one) how he thought about it, shared what I was learning, and we had a few great conversations touching on sympathy and compassion, in addition to empathy. I remained skeptical and puzzled. I gave my talk in Iowa and that was it. Until the past year or so when empathy surfaced in the scientific and popular cultures. Now I’m intrigued and eager to pick up my investigation again.
I’ll keep you posted on what I discover.