Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Join the International Conference on: How Might We Build a Culture of Empathy and Compassion?

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Interviews at Tikkun Magazine and Network for Spiritual Progressives

  Peter Gabel on Building a Culture of Empathy in the Justice and Legal System
    (Incorporating approaches like Restorative Justice, etc.)
    Video on Vimeo or Youtube



  • Peter Gabel Introduction: from offices of Tikkun Magazine

    • Associate Editor Tikkun Magazine

    • Law  Professor at

      • University Minnesota

      • UC Berkeley

      • New College

      • Public Interest Law School SF

    • Organizer for Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics

      • for lawyers, law professors and law students

      • for connecting the longing for empathy and understanding with law and social activism

      • fuse the inner and the outer

      • bring that perspective into the legal culture

    • Empathy is inherently present in law and legal culture because law has a relationship to justice

      • feeling for justice is a present need for all people

      • 2:00 - legal arena - empathic awareness is present

      • other hand - current legal culture was born 1600+ based on individualism and materialism

    • social connection, empathy, compassion, understanding

    • 3:00 The legal model in many ways sees people as distinct, they may lie, must be maximally distrustful

      • goal of an empathic world - legal world is what defines what is binding on us.

      • the socially binding part

      • need to find ways of bringing into the existing legal system the connection part (empathy)

    • 4:00 - the adversary system  - the process of law is people are at war with each other

      • the structure of trials assumes everyone may be lying

      • law school you learn to aggrandize yourself and discredit the other

      • fosters the  gladiator combat which is the opposite of empathy

    • 6:00 - there's so much mistrust build into the system

      • one side against the other with the judge serving as the umpire.

      • Constitution - protects the individual rights was a great accomplishment

        • but nothing about how we connect with each other, empathy

        • only focus on protecting the individual

    • 8:20: Other laws, contracts, torts, etc

      • sees individuals as socially separate actors

      • maximize profits

      • corporations - nothing about empathy

      • about self interest

      • law of contracts

      • no law about concerns for the other - empathy and compassion

      • the very structure of the law is geared toward competition and not toward empathy

    • 11:00 a crime is not a tearing of the communal fabric but the state versus the defendant

      • the defendant is surrounded by bundle of rights that protects them from abuse

      • system is not for taking responsibility and fostering healing and forgiveness

    • 13:30 Project for Integrating Spirituality, Law and Politics

      • Our group is interested in creating new forms of law and legal culture

      • that go beyond the liberal model

      • need a new step that connects people to each other

      • that fosters empathy, concern, understanding

      • creating new processes, new training

    • 14:30 the process is creating a new empathic foundation?

    • Four main goals our group has are;

      • 1. Support the Restorative Justice Movement

        • restorative circles

      • 2. Transformative Mediation

        • understanding based mediation

      • 3. New forms of Law Practice - Lawyers as 'Spiritual Guides'

      • 4. Education

    • 1. Support the Restorative Justice Movement

      • crime as a harm to the community as a whole

      • foster the taking of responsibility

      • apologies

      • forgiveness

      • reintegration into society

      • healing of society

      • may address larger problems

      • Examples:

        • 16:15 Ronny Earl in Austin TX example with small scale crime

          • group process

        • South Africa - truth and reconciliation example

    • 2. Transformative Mediation  (20:00)

    • 3. New forms of Law Practice - Lawyers as 'Spiritual Guides'

      • lawyers have a permanent relationship with the clients

      • heart based connection with clients

      • Georgia project as example

      • coming into contact with justice system is connecting with you as a human being

      • engaging the public space and law is a chance for personal growth

    •  4. Education - changing legal education (23:00)

      • changing legal education

      • law students lose touch with their values of caring

      • legal reasoning: fast talking and cleverness is valued

      • legal mind is cut off from the heart, empathy, compassion, care, love

      • lawyers have a glazed eye way of being

      • people don't like lawyers because they don't act like human beings

      • 26:00 - change education to introduce empathy, caring, cooperation

    • 28:00 - can't have a little empathy class on the side. it needs to be the core of the curriculum

      • need to understand existing law as it is and

      • and how to practice in a way that can bring about a new society

    • 29:00 Have empathy training, how does it work, how to connect people. Build the curriculum on that.

      • We all need empathy training because we live in an alienated world

      • Tikkun means to repair and heal the world

      • It's imagining how to connect your empathy with your work as a lawyer

      • there's always the cooperative aspect

      • peoples aspiration to cooperate versus just self interest

      • looking for the empathy in every case and bring that out.

      • need to learn the rule of separation  and how to foster greater empathy, compassion, connection

      • society is cooperative - it doesn't work unless everyone is working together.

      • the cooperative element

    • 32:00 How's that effort progressing? A Culture of Empathy?

      • it's a dawning transformation of consciousness that takes a long time

      • it took thousands of years to get to a Constitution, where we are  not bound to the king

        • a great achievement

      • now going to a new form of human connection that values longing for love,

      • that's going to take a long time

    • 34:20 Other ways to create a Culture of Empathy?

      • Stay with the law

      • imagine how powerful it would be if every city, in the law centers, if empathic efforts were taking place?

      • OJ Simpson trial, for example - if social healing would be there

      • it would change the culture

      • build new forms of legal culture in these centers and the media

      • that's how law could and will contribute to this.

    • 37:30 Other ways to create a Culture of Empathy?

      • overcome the alienation in every sphere of life that separates

      • Network of Spiritual Progressives, Tikkun fosters new ways of social activism

      • connect spirituality and politics, Empathy is a spiritual aspect of reality

      • Empathy is invisible, a way of experiencing the other

        • that is as important as any material change

        • material aspect is essential and not to be minimized

      • empathy and caring is also essential to politics

    • 39:30 I went to Democratic and GOP conventions to talk about empathy?

      • with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor it shows what a challenge it is

      • when you introduce connection to each other, business, courts, parties

      • the fear of the isolated individual of being controlled and manipulated by others comes to the surface

      • Obama saying he wants a Supreme Court judge with empathy created a firestorm

        • it's argued that Empathy can mean anything

        • they will be imposing their view on the individual

        • there is no objective empathy

      • the key to overcome that fear is that we are unique but also the same

        • we have the same longing,

        • are the source of each other's completion

        • we can't do it without each other.

        • empathy and compassion are essential forr justice

      • Justice Scalia wants nothing to do with what he calls subjective factors in law

        • we're all detached individuals and only rules are objective

        • same with Senator Jeff Session who lead challenge to empathy

        • the paranoid and understandable view

        • they say it's empathy for one side and not the other?

        • the notion of scarce resources

        • at it's core is a paranoid and fearful model of human relations

    • 45:00 Empathy for one side or the other? a fear they will not receive empathy?

      • it assumes that if empathy is brought into this area the individual will be harmed in some way.

      • if empathy is excluded, then it's everyone for themselves and everything you can get for yourself you can keep

      • the fears are legitimate, some could be advantaged

        • but there's no morality in that

    • 47:00 If the conservative has a fear of not being empathized with, a way to deal with it is to actually speak to that fear, acknowledging it?

      • some people out of fear hold themselves back and build a wall around themselves, emotional wall, financial wall,  and out of fear of the other, exist in this isolated state.

      • social change activists need to move forward with care, respect, and not manifest bitterness, rage

      • We need to become militant empathy advocates,

    • 49:00 There's a real fear that you can be manipulated and abused

      • if you're open you are more in danger of being hurt

      • don't deny it.

      • but there's the need, the longing for even the most walled in person to get out and to be see by the other,

    • 50:00 How to deal with empathy in the current structure?

      • need a militant empathy

      • changing this system toward empathy

      • what's going for us is that we all want it.

      • we're taping into something that is within all of us.

      • the fearful person would come out if they felt safe

      • a new activism - all change has to have that spiritually sensitivity

      • not touchy feely, but firm, militant - compassionate

    • 53:20 What does militant mean?

      • It means you're not a wimp!

      • you stand up and insist this is the right direction to go.

      • When you talk about spiritual needs, people think this is just psychobabble

        • fantasies, it's not the real life

      • spiritual people are not seen as being willing to engage in moral struggle, encounter

      • strength confidence, determination has to be part of this.

      • we can move this way, we will move this way

      • let's take care of one another

      • let foster a cooperative economy

      • doesn't mean you're rage full, hateful, sanctimonious - that's go to go.

    • 55:20 How about focusing on the empathy and being open about what the policies and strategies are?

      • (working toward a culture of empathy and being open about how to get there)

      • a good idea about not being rigidly set on one fixed policy

      • whatever will foster the sense of connection is more important that the fixed outcome

      • up to a point - for example illness - we need healthcare - can't compromise on that

      • it's basic to what we mean by empathy that we care for one another and act from a place of caring.

      • no one is expendable, I assume your not saying to give up on that too?

    • 57:00 It's that we want a culture of empathy and how we get to that culture is left open.

      • if someone is suffering like that, we are obviously not empathizing with them

      • we have to keep working until their needs are incorporated into our world view or policies.

      • That's worth trying.

      • maybe Obama relies too much on the process and not enough on the underlying values?

      • perhaps a stronger stand is needed to have his supporters feel they are fighting for a particular vision of the world. It can't be mushy.

      • in terms of the exact details of any policy or proposal I agree with you.

    • 58:30 Oscar Grant Shooting - and the peace and justice communities

      • an example of where there should be a process where the police officer should be able to fully feel he can convey what he thought he was doing.

      • an incredible tragedy

      • shouldn't be this situation

      • need a process to create connection

      • how to heal suffering,

      • we haven't yet created this healing structure

      • how do we transcend this situation

      • processes that can foster empathy between 2 communities

    • 1:02:00 We have a lot to talk about.

      • Justice and Obama?

      • Why has Obama backed off of empathy

      • Why have progressives not supported him more strongly on empathy?

    • This is a new discourse that we are trying to bring forward.



  Michael Lerner on Building a Culture of Empathy
   Video on Vimeo or Youtube


  • 0:00 Michael Lerner Introduction: from offices of Tikkun Magazine

  • What's your Life Story of learning about empathy?

    • Started with a consciousness of the Holocaust and destruction of my people

    • why do some people care about others and other people can kill?

    • I'm not in anything alone

    • I had empathy for people there.

    • Own experience of being a minority

    • Could empathize with African Americans

    • From early age had empathy for those who had been suffering or oppressed.

    • 2:40 From there it took a long time to have empathy for those who were oppressors

    • took considerable education to come to see that people acting in horrible ways are also people in pain

    • the hardest step

    • Started in my late 20's and been working on it since

    • been trying to  get progressives to see that those who don't side with us, as fellow human beings

  • You started empathizing with their pain?

    • The question I struggled with since I was 11 is how could Germans hate/murder others

    • there were 2 cultural explanations

      • 1. Germans are evil

        • idea didn't fit with Judaism - people couldn't be born evil

        • Grandfather had great respect for Germany in 1920

      • 2.  Somehow Evil had descended on Germany

    • 6:00 - got into psychology to understand evil

    • Studied time of Nazi

      • Wilhelm Reich and sexual suppression

        • didn't make sense

      • Herbert Marcuse

    • Why is this still the case?

      • got Phd. in Psychology

      • did 10 yr. study of American society

      • National Institute of Mental Health

      • What made Americans embrace Conservativism?

    • The left said

      • Americans are stupid, sexist, homophobic, etc

      • 11:40 My studies showed it was because the Right spoke to a hunger for meaning

        • for a more caring society

        • people are terrified the way family and friendship was falling apart

        • the depravation of love and caring.

      • For the left-- it's the economy stupid

        • Their interest is broader

        • left still doesn't get that

      • 13:50 since found that everyone has that need

      • doesn't mean they don't have needs for material, sexual, food, etc

      • equally significant is love and meaning

      • the capitalist world view denies that

      • capitalism says look out for number one

  • The overall system is suppressing the need for care and love?

    • also suppressing  people's natural empathy for each other

    • it makes people feel bizarre if they let their empathic part out

    • 15:10 people talk about all the lights going out, disasters as being great moments

    • why? because at that moment they felt it was legitimate to care for strangers

    • the hunger for empathy is normally suppressed

    • it is seen as shameful to be seen as caring and empathic

    • it can happen in a large crisis, or rooting for the team

    • 17:20  the social order suppresses empathy

      • in places where it's legitimated.

        • family

      • building places where love is allowed

  • 19:00 How do your values of caring, generosity, wonder, awe etc relate to empathy?

    • empathy is central

    • we are all in it together

    • we are all brothers and sisters

    • The torah starts talking about making humans in gods image

    • holy, sacred

    • The story of Adam and Eve

    • the concept of same family

    • core is our unity

    • legitimates our empathy, they are the same as us

  • 20:30  When did the word empathy start become important to you.

    • caring, generosity, forgiveness wonder, awe are aspects of empathy

    • feeling the others pain

    • if it doesn't manifest if it's not in behavior

    • how to create a space for these

    • Created Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun magazine

    • bring empathy to center of public life

    • for homeland security, personal security - develop empathy, caring

  • 24:40  How to build a Culture of Empathy?

    • great to try to build a culture of empathy

    • part of doing that is to articulate a politics of empathy

    • doing that with Network of Spiritual Progressives and Tikkun magazine

    • create a new bottom line - every organization and personal behavior

      • so it maximizes love, caring, empathy

      • that is efficiency

      • support us

      • this is a new bottom line

  • 27:30 How about not focusing on policies but rather empathy with conservatives?

    • not focused on conservatives

    • speak to those who are heart committed

    • legitimating it

    • a struggle that goes on between people

    • right hand of god: you have to dominate - worldview of fear, domination

    • left hand of god: world is based on love, caring, generosity

    • a continuum between these poles

    • where's the social energy?

  • 32:00 If you want to create an empathic society one thing you need is to help support people to go for the empathic and loving voice

    • individual work

    • and social reality

    • creating communal institutions

    • creating a political movement

      • for example - Network for spiritual covenant

      • schools should have a course each year

        • mentoring

        • developing empathy

        • not in the abstract

  • 34:45  What is the process of creating an empathy movement? there's infighting even in a empathy group.

    • we are all screwed up people

    • we've all been subject to this distorted world that didn't give us the love and recognition we needed

    • every group is going to have screwed up dynamics

    • don't project perfection on people

    • wounded healers is all that we have

    • we are going to screw up

    • step number one is have empathy for our screw-ups

    • there's going to be people acting out,

    • that's all we have on the planet, but they all have a desire to transcend that

    • each group has it's own dynamics

    • need a great deal of practical wisdom

  • 38:40 How has your journey been of organizing and the problems and successes with empathy?

    • screw-up after screw-up after screw-up

    • some successes

    • was helpful in being a psychologist

    • the more loving I became the better the groups I led became

    • I'm proud to have the NSP that is holding together

    • proud of my synagogue

    • it's important to start out with the power

      • used to start out with ultra democracy

      • everyone's opinion is valuable

      • not everyone knows what to do

      • our anti authoritarianism has a deep problem in it

    • large power differences vr. small power differences

    • or demean leaders

    • violence in struggle is a bad idea

    • need acknowledgment that people are at different moral, spiritual, development

    • groups set up that see that

    • 43:00  experience is useful

  • 43:30 Story of republican state convention?

    • converting fear to the empathy

    • we have to empathize with others and love ourselves into a loving society

    • can't dominate our way into a loving others

  • 45:50 What about NVC and reflective listening?

    • I'm all for it

    • it's an important process

    • the difference I had with some practitioners is those processes can be used in a mechanistic way

    • like anything else

    • words can be turned to their opposites

    • in 60's and 70's people beat each other up for not being loving or caring enough

    • what we want to do is empathize with them

    • any set of words can be turned into a dogma

    • some say I want to empathize with that one and that one..

    • well that's a part but need to help people understand the world will need collective action

    • I want to be empathic toward the war maker but not toward the wars

      • want to fight against the wars, against the policies

    • this hasn't been developed enough in the NVC community

  • 50:30  A metaphor of empathy?

    • an explosion of deep joy into the world

    • empathy undermines the sense of being alone

    • the world is full of human beings who reflect us

    • an explosion -

  • 52:44 A metaphor for the opposite of empathy?

    • closing down, the clenched fist, the cave with a big rock in front

    • build of a home with no doors and windows

    • closed off from others and sad

    • very sad

  • 53:40 Anything else?

    • please join us


      • Network Spiritual Progressives

      • my synagogue

    • remove the blocks to empathy, love, generosity