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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Culture of Empathy Builder: Kathleen Barry

Kathleen Barry & Edwin Rutsch: Dialogs on How to Build a Culture of Empathy
Kathleen Barry is Professor Emerita of Penn State University and a feminist activist and sociologist. She is author of  Unmaking War, Remaking Men: How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves The book explores soldiers' experiences through a politics of empathy - probing  the psychopathy and sociopathy of war.

See her interview, authors talk and an overview of her workshop on Unmaking War and Building Empathy.



Kathleen Barry: Overview of the Unmaking War and Building Empathy Workshop



Kathleen Barry interviewed by Edwin Rutsch

Why a program on

     Unending war corporate greed bank bailouts, people's austerity

     Media manipulation


     Masculinity of war

Culture of sociopathy versus value of human life and human rights

     Devaluing Americans

      Remorseless killing of Afghans, Pakastanis, Iraqis, .? Iranians?

What is American's responsibility for war crimes, crimes against humanity?

American's "tired of war"

      Turn off the news

      Feeling powerless "there is nothing you can do"

      Struggling with their own economic survival

How to engender caring and consciousness - Empathy

     New way of knowing

      Engages one's humanity for oneself, for others, disconnecting from the masculinity of war

      How to draw it out

Empathy as action not only a thought or a feeling

Consciousness Raising through empathy

      New knowledge of empathy leads to the "aha" moment of consciousness raising

Developing projects, plans and programs for empathetic action to change the course of war and corporate control.

Kathleen Barry: Author talk on the Politics of Empathy

 Jan 29. 2011 - Passage - Marin, CA  (Video on Vimeo)

(Talk Outline pending)


Speaking on the subtitle of Unmaking War, Remaking Men

            How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves

Up to us to define the future a feminist approach

            Not leave it to the leaders, the military

            What do we want?

                        Not enough to be against war

                        Need to visualize a future of unmaking war and remaking men

                        Need for optimism to fuel our actions

Source of empathy who we are as humans

            Define empathy

            Read from the opening of Unmaking War, Remaking Men

            Other examples of how human beings focus on saving human life

Empathy as a method for writing Unmaking War, Remaking Men

            Had not set out to write a book on combat

Interviews with veterans had to put myself in their situations when they were in combat

How killing in combat effects soldiers, how you find that through empathy

Masculinity of war requires male socialization to be protectors of women and children and therefore the state

            My experience with my brother

Military training to make remorseless killers

            Military chants Kill! Kill! Kill!

            Empathy can break through brainwashing of soldiers

                        Ethan McCord's story

                        Resistors are remaking masculinity in refusing war

Costa Rica demilitarized state

            Violated by United States

            Men do not go to war but Costa Rica extremely high rate of violence against women

We have the evidence that:

We can demilitarize states

Men can remake masculinity

We can end war

All of that is already in progress. 



Kathleen Barry: Interview on How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics?
Jan 29. 2011 - Interview with Edwin Rutsch at Book Passage - Marin, CA (Video on Vimeo)

  • 00:00 - Where did your interest in empathy first start?

    • Always been my approach to handle social problems

    • Story: grew up in a racist segregated city

      • had to drive through black community going to church

      • Parent would say racist mean things about black people

      • how would the people feel if they heard that/

    • Got involved in civil rights movement, etc

      • that early event - empathy with blacks being demeaned

      • War in Vietnam

      • political left - patriarchal - authoritarian

      • became feminists

      • blacks understood oppression - empathy came up

      • hard to find empathy in CEOs

  • 05:00 UC Berkeley study - empathy and the hierarchy

    • Became sociologist

    • raised in poor area, and being female learned empathy

    • have to look around and be observant

    • love to observe - (empathy)

    • understand who we are

    • Story of Bodega Bay Drowning

      • needed a moral base for book

      • military has not moral base

      • didn't want to bring in religion for morality

      • peoples caring as moral base

  • 07:00 Empathy is a moral base?

    • empathy is an action and engagement

    • not a head thing

    • how we are as people

    • woman at drowning was crying

    • why crying?

      • empathy with the family, etc

      • empathy is always an active force

    • even in our talking

  • 09:00 Connection and an action grows out of that?

    • human interaction interpreting the meaning of the other

    • language for communication

    • empathy is taking interpretation a level deeper

  • 11:24 Mary Gordon says we learn thought relationship

    • met old friend - the interaction

    • Patricia Hearst Story

      • putting herself in Patricia  Hearst's shoes, perspective

      • Talked with Patricia personally, she said you understood me.

      • 'you're the only one that got it right' that was the empathy

  • 17:00 Could you put yourself into George Bush, the psychopaths shoes?

    • it's difficult because of our natural repugnance or sociopaths and psychopaths

    • look for connection from Bush - he failed

    • to be empathetic you have to have connection, but he closes it off.

    • he has disconnection, unfeeling

Jan 30, 2011 -  Kathleen Barry to Edwin Rutsch

In our conversation yesterday, you asked me if I could empathize with George W. Bush. In Unmaking War, Remaking Men I studied his presidency, clearly and carefully following his own words and actions, and found them to reveal what I call presidential psychopathy which is not unlike the psychopathy found in CEO's like Bernie Madoff.  Lying, deceit and remorselessness along with pleasure from the power they accrue characterize psychopaths. While I am interested neither in more name calling nor in an individual diagnosis, it is well known that psychopaths are drawn to positions of leadership.

But when you asked me that question, I could not locate anything in what I know about George W. Bush which would make me empathize with him.  Empathy for me is active, it comes through our interactions with each other.  It is something we do.  After dinner on my drive back to Santa Rosa, I continued thinking about your question as I knew there was something left unsaid.

Then it came to me I remembered discovering compassion for someone in my own life who I later discovered was a sociopath.  I have found the resolution to my own pain and anger from being hurt by this person who had no remorse when I was able to have compassion for her.  That did not mean I accepted or even forgave her abuse. But when I was able to wish her freedom from suffering, the pain and anger I had for her just vanished.  Thinking about that brought me to my answer to your question about George W. Bush.

Compassion in Buddhism, means to wish that others are free of suffering.  For Buddhists and for me, compassion is not confined to individuals, taking them one at a time.  Rather it is universal and emerges in the unity of all beings, or what I have called human interconnection.  Compassion for George W. Bush means wishing that he be free of suffering and simultaneously a wish that his freedom of suffering would bring relief from suffering of those he has harmed through his psychopathic leadership. 

Barack Obama said that having empathy meant have it even for George W. Bush with whom he apparently disagreed when he was running for office.  Was that empathy, actively putting himself in the place of Bush, what made him after he was elected, adopt the exact same war strategies as Bush did?  If so empathy with Bush along with other forces like the powerful US military generals led him, like Bush, to commit war crimes.  And we know that is not the function, purpose and place of empathy in our lives.

Thank you Edwin for you good questions which gave me the opportunity to think through and clarify my distinction between empathy and compassion.


2010-11-30 - Norman Solomon's hour long interview with Kathleen Barry
on Progressive Radio Network. Download mp3

  • 2:40 Why connect changing men and ending war?

    • masculinity build around men being expendable in war

    • How to get out of this?

      • state demilitarization

      • Costa Rica - no military but high violence towards woman

      • need to look at remaking masculinity

  • 7:15 getting rid of the military is not necessarily a cultural change?

    • a political change to demilitarize

    • a personal change to remake masculinity

    • core masculinity - expects aggression of men as protector

  • 10:00 Child rearing?

    • boy learn violence on tv and play

  • 11:56 How much is innate in biology?

    • we don't know

  • 13:50 Importance of Role models?

    • parents, teachers, TV, Internet, video games

    • Costa Rica role modeling

    • men who turn away from

  • 16:50 Biology and socialization is not destiny?

    • 18:26 Working on a politics of Empathy

  • 19:15  Empathy runs counter to the inclination to be violent? Does empathy require a sense of security? If you are feeling desperation is it hard to empathize with others? If you feel distress id precludes you feeling other peoples humanity?

    • Are more free to be empathetic when we have security in ourselves.

    • There's also spontaneous empathy - when someone's life is at risk we want to help.

  • 23:15 Breaking empathy,  it's not natural for people to kill others?

    • military removes empathy - dehumanization

  • 33:00 How can we change our own society?

    • empathy - come in close to other peoples experience

    • to the countries we're invading

    • ie talk with the people in these countries

  • 40:20 Depravity in foreign policy

  • 41:30 The attitude, "that's the way things are," is a deficit of empathy?

    • deficit of empathy or a not knowing

    • people are in a fog,

    • Obama and war surge

  • 44:40 How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves

    • Our Politics

      • disappointed in Obama

      • he ran as an empathetic man

    • Our Soldiers

    • Ourselves

      • boy gravitate toward the power

      • masculinity is power over women

  • 50:00 military structure

    • business want to get bigger,

    • military as well

    • always want more

    • Obama dropped empathy off the charts



2010-10-13 - Rosemary Manchester, host of "A Novel Idea," interviews Kathleen Barry
on Unmaking War, Remaking Men fo
r KRCB Public Radio. Radio Interview
Unmaking War, Remaking Men
"In her latest book, Unmaking War, Remaking Men, local writer Kathleen Barry introduces the compelling proposition: "How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Our Soldiers and Ourselves." Barry challenges the presumption that war is inevitable, and explores what would it take to unmake war. Kathleen Barry is Professor Emerita of Penn State University."

    • 11:00 Media gives horror stories

      • need a politics of empathy

      • a way of engaging your own humanity

      • talking to veterans

      • must engage with soldier

        • try to empathize with the situation

        • humanity comes alive

      • causes action

    • 12:40 Approach it through empathy brings humanity

    • 13:00 Bodega Bay Story - a moral base for book

      • Drowning - share human consciousness

    • 16:30 cooperation and empathy during disaster

      • military trains out empathy and compassion