Here is an interview I did with Arianna via
How can we build a culture of empathy?
To a physicist a critical
mass is the amount of radioactive material that must be present for a
nuclear reaction to become self-sustaining. For the empathy movement,
a critical mass is when the empathy habit is cultivated by enough
people that it can begin to spread spontaneously. I think of it as an
outbreak of a positive infection. And everyone has the potential to be
a carrier. So one thing we can do is to spread it as widely as
I think the opposite of empathy is the projection of our own fears
onto others. We've seen this over and over again throughout American
history. In times of economic upheaval, when huge numbers of people
are losing their jobs, losing their homes, and feeling powerless to do
anything about it, it has always been the case that people look for
scapegoats. Empathy is the antidote to that. Sub
Conference: Journalism and Media
2012-07-03 - Arianna Huffington and Edwin Rutsch:
Dialogs on how to build a culture of empathy.
Here is a text based interview I did with Arianna via email.
1. Was there an 'aha' moment
when you saw or experienced the power of empathy or was it a more
It's always been an important
subject to me, but if I had an 'aha' moment it was speaking to
Jonas Salk, just before he died. Salk defined the transitional
period we're in as moving from Epoch A (based on survival and
competition) to Epoch B (based on collaboration and meaning). It
put the idea of empathy into a much larger context for me.
Years later, in the 1990s, I wrote a book called The Fourth
Instinct, which explored the instinct that takes us beyond our
first three -- our impulses for survival, sex, and power -- and
drives us to expand the boundaries of our caring to include our
communities and the world around us. That instinct is just as
vital as the other three but we rarely give it the same kind of
2. What is personally your most
Empathy is certainly among my most
important values. And it's a quality that gains value for me as
time goes on. In a world facing multiple crises, where we are
paralyzed and polarized in our politics, there is an urgent need
for us to summon our better angels and master our own gifts of
identifying with other people's feelings. As Jeremy Rifkin wrote
in The Empathic Civilization, empathy is not a quaint behavior to
be trotted out during intermittent holiday visits to a food bank
or during a post-disaster telethon. It lies at the very core of
human existence. It's a value that’s vital both on the small
personal scale and the large public scale.
3. How can we build a culture of empathy?
To a physicist a critical mass is
the amount of radioactive material that must be present for a
nuclear reaction to become self-sustaining. For the empathy
movement, a critical mass is when the empathy habit is cultivated
by enough people that it can begin to spread spontaneously. I
think of it as an outbreak of a positive infection. And everyone
has the potential to be a carrier. So one thing we can do is to
spread it as widely as possible.
4. You said at Davos 2012, "we
need a dramatic increase in empathy. There is a race against time
at the moment, between the forces and voices of fear mongering
that are appealing to our worst parts, to our lizard brains, and
the forces of empathy." The relationship of fear and empathy seems
to be at the heart or crux of the so many of our personal, social
and cultural problems. Do you have stories of how you have taken a
fear and empathized with it? What happened?
It is natural to have fears. And
fearlessness is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear.
Empathy is just one of the tools we can use to arrive at that
mastery. Fear and empathy really are mutually exclusive. If we
choose to connect, to understand, the fear just disappears.
5. How can progressives deepen
their empathy for the fears that conservatives may have?
I don’t believe in seeing
everything through the outdated prism of left vs. right. What's
left-wing about caring for the middle class, or the kids
graduating from college and unable to get jobs? There are many
politicians that use fear for political purposes, and exploit the
entirely legitimate fear that millions of Americans have about
their economic stability. They use it to divide us against one
another with the idea that the American Dream is a zero-sum game.
So it's important to realize that the way these fears manifest in
a lot of people may be different than how the fear started.
6. Typically, empathy is
defined as the metaphor of; 'standing in someone else's shoes' or
'looking thought someone else's eyes.' For me empathy is like a
cornucopia. What is your metaphor of what empathy is like? And
would you elaborate on how your metaphor illustrates empathy?
President Obama put it nicely in
his speech responding to the shooting of then-Congresswoman
Gabrielle Giffords, asking us to "expand our moral imaginations"
and "widen the circle of our concern." We all have circles of
concern -- our partners, our families, our communities, our
country. And widening those circles should be a lifelong effort.
What do you see as the opposite of empathy and what is your
metaphor for that?
I think the opposite
of empathy is the projection of our own fears onto others. We've
seen this over and over again throughout American history. In
times of economic upheaval, when huge numbers of people are losing
their jobs, losing their homes, and feeling powerless to do
anything about it, it has always been the case that people look
for scapegoats. Empathy is the antidote to that.
How to Immediately Improve Your Life (Hint: It Starts With Improving the
Lives of Others) Arianna
"Empathy, compassion, and giving -- which is simply
empathy and compassion in action -- are the building blocks of our
being. With them we flourish; without them we perish...
Last week a few HuffPost editors and I were treated to a visit by Bill
Drayton and Mary Gordon. Bill Drayton is the founder of Ashoka and a
longtime champion of social entrepreneurship, a term that he coined and
that has now spread across the world. Mary Gordon is a former
kindergarten teacher who founded Roots of Empathy, an organization
dedicated to teaching emotional literacy and promoting empathy in
children. She was also one of the first Ashoka fellows.
Our visit started with talk of the newborn recently welcomed by one of
our editors, Gregory Beyer, whereupon Mary presented him with a onesie
with "Empathy Teacher" emblazoned on the front. But as Mary -- a great
empathy teacher herself -- told us, it's a two-way street, and empathy
is best nurtured by example. "Love grows brains," she told us. "We need
to show children a picture of love as we raise them.""
“New scientific data tells us that empathy is not a
quaint behavior trotted out during intermittent visits to a food bank or
during the Haiti telethon. Instead, it lies at the very core of human
existence. Indeed, in this time of economic hardship, political
instability, and rapid technological change, I believe empathy is the
one quality we most need to teach and nurture if we’re going to survive
and flourish in the 21st century.”
"Empathy is the one quality we most need if we’re going
to survive and flourish in the twenty-first century."
Arianna Huffington "..we need a dramatic increase in empathy. There is a race against time
at the moment, between the forces and voices of fear mongering that are
appealing to our worst parts, to our lizard brains, and the forces of
empathy. And we've seen here so many people here who are all about
empathy." Arianna Huffington
"we need to accelerate that instinct for empathy, for connectivity with
each other and with ourselves...." Arianna Huffington "..to summon our better angels, there are two essential ingredients
we’ll need: innovation nurtured by an entrepreneurial spirit, and
empathy nurtured by a strong civil society." Arianna
Arianna Huffington and David Brooks on stage at Aspen
Ideas Festival 2013
Arianna replies to a comment of David Brooks on stage:
“So given the unmistakable health benefits of empathy
and specifically putting empathy into action, how do we strengthen it?
And how do we pass it on? Parents put a lot of time into thinking
about how to pass on a better material life to their children, but
it’s just as important to focus on passing down a rich capacity for
compassion. This is especially true in our modern world”.
Q: You define the 21st century, as the century of
empathy. Right? What do you mean by this?
What is the century of Empathy, Arianna?
A: .... I think if you look at the world around. it's like a split
screen world. Depending on what you focus on, you can be incredibly
pessimistic or incredibly optimistic. You can focus on all the explosion
of cruelty and lack and unemployment and austerity or you can focus on
what is being born. I think that what is being born is going to be
grounded in empathy. In our realization that we are all connected. And
so in the way we are all connected through technology, we are also
connect in a human way. And if we don't acknowledge that an base
our decisions on it, we're going to be n major trouble.......
and come from that deeper place of wisdom and empathy.
Arianna recently joined Google's Carlo d'Asaro Biondo and
Iain Tait for a talk at the Cannes Lions Festival Of Creativity. The
June 21 event focused on how to merge success and happiness in a
technology-heavy world. Arianna added that this is the century of
empathy, noting that today's world operates like a "split screen."
"[D]epending on what you focus on, you can be incredibly pessimistic or
incredibly optimistic," Arianna said. "You can focus on all the
explosions of cruelty ... and unemployment and austerity, or you can
focus on what is being born. And I think what is being born is going to
be grounded in empathy, in our realization that we are all connected."
"His Holiness the Dalai Lama sat down with Arianna Huffington at St. Paul’s
Cathedral in London to celebrate his Templeton Prize, and discuss the importance
of a productive conversation between spirituality and science."
Q. What do you hope to gain from collaboration between
science and spirituality?
1. science studied mater, now studying mind
2. just research
3. more awareness on importance of emotions
how to train awareness
promote these values - with experience and science
in education teach warm heartedness
Q. In west epidemic of drugs. any alternative?
self centered attitude - causes anxiety
concern for others, open mind, less fear, less stress,
Q. Peace of mind, compassion gyms.
training of mind
Q what is secret of sound sleep?
daytime clam and relaxed
to much anxiety in day no good
giving up political responsibilities he slept better.
- Cultivating Empathy - Hosted by
Arianna Huffington - Socialedge.org
"I have been lucky enough, in the course of my travels around the country
and around the world, to meet and work with many people who have
bolstered my faith in our collective ability to confront the crises we
face. And I am increasingly convinced that the solutions to our problems
are not going to come from the political, media, and financial
institutions that continue to fail us. The solutions are going to come
from each of us doing our part—making a personal commitment and taking
action. And to summon our better angels, there are two essential
ingredients we’ll need: innovation nurtured by an entrepreneurial
spirit, and empathy nurtured by a strong civil society. "(expert
Rippling: How Social Entrepreneurs Spread Innovation Throughout the
WorldBy Beverly Schwartz pg 201+)
"Practical little steps that help us
connect. The final thing I want to end on is, we
need a dramatic increase in empathy. There is a race against time at the
moment, between the forces and voices of fear mongering that are
appealing to our worst parts, to our lizard brains, and the forces
of empathy. And we've seen here so many people here who are all
cow girl, that is introducing story telling as a way to connect with each other. People who are bringing others together,...... we need to
accelerate that instinct for empathy, for connectivity with each other
and with ourselves..... "
On The Rise Of Empathy In America
Last month, I spent a fascinating couple of days at the Skoll World
Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, England. It was
exhilarating--and deeply moving--to hear example after example of social
entrepreneurs making quantifiable improvements in lives all around the
Arianna Huffington on Empathy: Welcome to the Social Edge
"A few years ago, Arianna Huffington wrote a book
exploring what drives us to include the world around us in our
individual caring. Not surprisingly then, she went to the Skoll World
Forum last month to speak on a panel addressing Catastrophic Risk and
Threats to the Global Commons. This week, she is on Social Edge
connecting empathy with social change. She writes: “Empathy is the one
quality we most need if we’re going to survive and flourish in the
Huffington: Financial Crisis or Empathy Crisis? at Davos
" Her analysis was that the world isn’t suffering from a financial
crisis, or a eurozone crisis, or a confidence crisis as much as from a
crisis of empathy. Her prescription? Slow down, unplug, and get a lot
more sleep. You’ll better understand and really connect with the people
around you — and that, more than stimulus of the monetary or
intellectual sort — is the key to making the world a better place."
- Memorial Day Lessons From Darwin, Virginia Woolf, and Altruistic
Squirrels "Empathy and narrative are two of my great obsessions. And here
they were being most movingly and unexpectedly illustrated. The images
we often have of college are about the acquisition of knowledge --
hitting the books, studying all night, taking test after test. But as
Elyse and Jacob demonstrated, the goal -- not just for college but for
life -- should be wisdom, at the heart of which is empathy. The
world is not suffering right now for lack of data. But it is definitely
crying out for wisdom. .. And using narrative to tap into that instinct
for empathy has always been one of our goals at HuffPost "
"This is not to say that changing things is easy and that
there are simple solutions to the mess we are in. But if those in charge
cared the way you care if someone you love is in danger -- when you get
that shot of adrenaline that allows a parent to lift a car off her child
and do things no one thought possible -- we would see an empathy
spike that would lead to results now considered impossible.
When we're moved to act, we're capable of tapping into amazing ingenuity
and creativity. And though we're not slaves to our leaders, the tone set
by them matters. And instead of empathy, it's notable how much the
tone of our political discourse has become about punishment. Instead
of helping those suffering in this financial crisis, there's a
substantial segment of the population that now believes they got what
was coming to them."
Only Empathy Can Save Us: Why Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization
Is This Month's HuffPost Book Club Pick (Huffington Post hosts a
series of articles and month long discussion from experts in the
field of empathy) "Empathy, Rifkin tells us -- and backs up with new scientific data -- is
not a quaint behavior trotted out during intermittent visits to a food
bank or during the Haiti telethon. Instead, it lies at the very core of
human existence. This is something I've long believed. Indeed, I
dedicated a whole book to exploring what I called The Fourth Instinct --
that part of the human character that compels us to go beyond our
impulses for survival, sex, and power, and drives us to expand the
boundaries of our caring to include our communities and the world around
Please read The Empathic
Civilization and join in our month-long discussion about it. Not only
will Jeremy Rifkin be regularly blogging about the issues his book
raises, we will also be featuring posts from over 30 of the world's
leading scientists, scholars, and public policy intellectuals in a many
fields, which will allow us to have a robust and informed discussion on
what it will take to create and nurture a truly empathic civilization."
"...there is something about the times we are living in
where empathy is really key. It hasn't been always so.
But right now, people want to be part of a larger meaning. They want
their lives to be about something other than our own narrow
preoccupation. And marketers who really tap into that authentically and
transparently can really make a big difference to their brands...."
What is your strategy for creating a movement for
building a culture of empathy?