Culture of Empathy Builder:
Maia Szalavitz is
a neuroscience journalist obsessed with addiction, love, evidence-based
living, empathy, fertility and pretty much everything related to brain and
She writes for Time Magazine
Maia Szalavitz and Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD
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00:00 Introduction of Maia Szalavitz
01:22 How can we build a culture of
Start with children – they learn by being
treated with empathy
Wiring of stress systems. Being with others
who are caring and nurturing
Empathy is fundamental for health. Empathy
is not a luxury
03:30 Maia’s two kinds of empathy:
Cognitive empathy – can be used positively
for connecting or negatively such as for manipulation. Perspective
Emotional empathy – sharing another’s
feelings, generally, is always positive
Definitions of Empathy:
Academics and scientists use word empathy
in many different ways.
Fundamentally, it is being able to put
yourself in another’s shoes and care.
Edwin’s four parts of empathy
Mirrored empathy: also called emotional
Empathy :Perspective taking, putting yourself in another’s situation
(actors are masters at this)
Action: Working together empathically: when empathic, more
Importance of self-empathy is often
overlooked. Shame and self-hatred blocks self-empathy.
Importance of calmness and safety to
empathy: The calmer you are the more functional the highest brain
regions are – thinking is more creative and abstract. When stressed, the
focus is on survival, fear, threats, cortex shuts down and focus is on
self-protection/preservation no room for empathy.
With respect to empathic action, feeling
too much empathy can actually reduce one’s ability to be helpful to
another. It’s complicated!
12:44 Maia’s book and reasons for
Her co-author, Dr. Bruce Perry, his
research and practice
Astonished by the lack of empathy with
respect to those suffering from addiction and chronic pain. Why deny
drugs from those in chronic pain, out of fear that others might get
addicted? Doesn’t seem fair.
Also astonished by lack of empathy in many
current addiction recovery treatments. “Let’s attack them”, “let’s
Maia’s personal observation on her own
empathy discovery efforts
We must pay attention to empathy because it
runs through everything, from the economy to child rearing
16:48 Importance of empathy
Empathy is everywhere when you look for it.
The greatest moments of joy, for most, are times of special connections
Its more than world peace and kumbaya – it
makes you HAPPY. Also, we are a social species and cooperation has an
We may have selfishness as part of our
make-up, but we also have empathy. Why always emphasize the negative?
How can we raise the value of
empathy in society?
The instinct and desire is for fairness and
is visible even in children.
Awareness is key - especially now in our
financial crisis facilitated by overwhelming greed.
When terrible things happen, we tend to
question our values and what matters.
23:30 Maia’s book: the science
Be conscious of the science. It points us
to our fundamental truths. The ideas that we had of ourselves as selfish
and bad are not even scientifically valid. Our instinct is actually not
to be selfish.
Very few people would want to live in a
sheer ‘survival of the fittest’ world. We are hard-wired for empathy. A
creative and collaborative world is much more fun place to live in.
Maia’s book: Empathy’s importance
to social relationships, health and happiness
Moments of connection and sharing are those
Social support and connections make you
happier and healthier. The more we know and learn about this, the easier
it will be to encourage the promotion of a culture of empathy. Giving
(altruism) actually does make you happier than receiving
Example would be policies and attitudes to
health care. It’s about security. If we are anxious and in fear about
health - affording it, paying for it, what if something happens -
empathy is blocked and shut down. Also, this would cut health care costs
too, since reduced anxiety leads to increased health! A virtuous circle,
not a vicious circle.
For any new Policy, ask yourself, does this
make us more empathic, or is this disconnecting us further? How does
this affect social connections?
31:26 Format of the book is real stories.
Empathy is why stories are interesting to
us. They foster perspective taking.
Stories also make the science in the book
more interesting and accessible.
Mary Gordon and her Roots of Empathy
program, brings babies into schools so children can watch child
development. Helps children see empathy developing in someone else.
Mary Gordon points out that the reason we
enjoy music, storytelling, arts, novels, films etc. is that it connects
us, shared experiences.
34:30 Empathy is seen as a feminine quality
Programs that foster empathy are often the
first to be cut. This can be seen as a sexism problem. We associate
nurturing, the arts, empathy, with femininity and femininity is
associated with triviality.
Empathy and Child development,
promoting empathy in children
How trauma affects development.
We have historically believed that babies
don’t learn or remember anything and anything in the fist few years
don’t matter. This is wrong.
The way our earliest memories are set up is
the foundation for later experiences and memories. If early memories are
of disconnection, neglect, this sets the tone for later life. This makes
Ideas for promoting empathy include care
for mothers and caregivers, one-on-one attention, reading to children,
promoting perspective taking, playtime, promoting familiarity.
Important to encourage perspective taking
What you exercise will grow. Make
perspective taking explicit.
Role of child’s natural temperament and
stage of development is important to consider when teaching empathy.
Be what you want your children to be.
Communicate that it feels good to help
people. It’s not a chore. Make it fun.
47:45 Empathy, Oxytocin and Addiction
Being nice gives us a nice feeling, it’s a
real motivation. The brain gives us‘opium’ (Oxytocin) when we are nice.
When we share a moment of joy, be there in
a mindfulness way – We don’t always stay in the moment, even with the
Can we get addicted to empathy?
We can be addicted to others: children,
Addiction is defined as “compulsive
behaviours despite negative consequences” and this is also a good
definition of parenting.
Physiology of joy (brain chemistry)
operates on the same system, whether shooting heroin or enjoying the
moment of the birth of a child.
Lack of empathy can be a cause of
Maia’s personal experiences with addiction
and what caused it.
A high level of self-hatred and
over-sensitivity. Opiates gave me artificially what I could not get
naturally. In recovery, learned how to get it naturally.
Un-empathic recovery methods don’t make
sense because lack of empathy is often what started the addiction in the
55:44 Exploring empathy going forward
Working on her next book. It will be more
I saw myself as a horrible, bad person who
couldn’t do anything worth loving.
Most people want to be accepted, loved,
make a meaningful contribution. Empathy is the source of it all.
Need to get back to “love thy neighbour as
thyself”. Then all the extraneous stuff and distractions fall away.
Final thoughts: The more we can come
up with ways we can be calm, relaxed, and gentle to ourselves and
others, the happier and healthier we’ll be and the more a culture of
empathy will be created.
July 19, 2012 - Part 1: Empathy isn't
Science Reporter Maia Szalavitz on how to give empathy a PR makeover.
MS: We underemphasize how fun and cool it is to connect with other
people, and how actually our greatest joys in life are about connection
and empathy. Let’s say you’re the most successful person in the world
but you have nobody to share it with—it’s pretty bad, right? That most
of our joys are relational and not material, again underlines the
importance of this. We feel like empathy is a vegetable and it’s like
something that we have to do because it’s good for us or like exercise
or something, but actually it’s the root of all fun.
2012 - Part II: Science reporter Maia Szalavitz on how to cultivate
empathy in children
Maia Szalavitz: You can just explicitly encourage perspective-taking,
like while reading to them, ask, “What do you think this character
thinks? How do you think he feels? When you’re in one state, it can be
very hard to imagine another state. If you’re cold it’s really hard to
pack your bathing suit. You just can’t imagine that it could be warm
Maia Szalavitz on Empathy
OurBlook interview with Maia Szalavitz,
How do you define empathy, and
what new scientific findings have emerged about it?
MS: Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and
care what it’s like to be there. It has at least two distinct parts.
Book Review: Born For Love
"Co-written by a science journalist and a child psychiatrist, the book
argues that the human brain is hardwired for empathy. We're built to
connect to others, but we're not born that way. Our amazing ability to
sync our minds with others takes years of practice. It all starts with
an loving and attentive mother. (A dad, a grandmother, or an adoptive
parent can also fill this role. What matters is the sustained, intensive
Oct. 28, 2011 - How Being Socially Connected May Sap Your
"Feeling socially connected is good for you, both physically and
mentally, but in a paradox, it may also make you less empathetic to the
plight of others.
Numerous studies have established that having lots of
social support is associated with longevity and better psychological
health, but past studies have also hinted that there’s something about
the chemistry of connection that inclines people toward unkindness —
particularly toward stigmatized groups like those with disabilities or
Browse the book at Harper Collins: has beginning pages from each
"An inside look at the power of empathy: Born
for Love is an unprecedented exploration of how and why the brain
learns to bond with others—and a stirring call to protect our children
from new threats to their capacity to love."
Book Outline Notes:
“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the
Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his
thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of
optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison
for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a
few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this
prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all
living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert
conditions that foster and hinder empathy?
a lot of questions
Maia was bullied for being sensitive - wants to connect
About Mary Gordon Roots of Empathy
01. Heaven in other People
about Mary Gordon and Roots of Empathy
many short stories
empathy rooted in our biology
Adam smith - sympathy was early word for empathy.
golden rule and morality
empathy body simulation - not conscious.
children reach out and want to help. (Alan Alda video)
Self as distinct entity
early empathy as emotional contagion (grass blowing in
02. In Your Face
Story: baby born with facial defect
Oxytocin soothing effect or empathy
solitary confinement is emotionally
03. Missing People
Story: girl adopted from Russia orphanage
effects of early childhood neglect
babies need connection and empathy
04. Intense World
Story: boy with autism spectrum
2 part of empathy, feel and cognition -
autism perhaps form being flooded with to
much empathic information?
empathy isn't an on/off phenomenon - it's a
05. Lies and Consequences
Story: Story of child from traveler culture
honesty is cornerstone of empathic
need true feelings to deepen empathy
About child development science
06. No Mercy
Story: young rich boy rapes girl - has everything
why does he do it?
about child development studies
various stories of serious 'bullying'
08. The Chameleon
Story: a girl that
adapts to different social environments to fit in.
teens mimic each other
about mimicry - mirroring - perspective taking
how empathy may have developed evolutionarily
09. Us Versus Then
10. Glued To the Tube
Story: boy raised by TV
importance of relationship - versus just listening.
violence in the media -
children mirror the behavior around them
military reduces empathy so soldiers can kill
11. On Baboons, British Civil Servant and the
leadership and social hierarchy
Coauthor Burces work with cults,
cults are authoritarian
how they work
stress levels on the social hierarchy
antidote to stress is empathy
12. Warm as Iceland
an empathic society
importance of empathy in society
critical for a well functioning society
impotence of trust which is based on empathy
How do countries get and maintain empathy?
story of insurance executive seeing inequality in America
and effects on healthcare
social inequality and loss of empathy
high crime rates
low life expectancy
effect is from stress
13. All Together Now
"Empathy - fully expressed in a community of nurturing
interdependent people - promotes health, creativity, intelligence, and
productivity. In contrast, apathy and lack of empathy contribute to
individual and societal dysfunction, inhumane ideologies, and often
Empathy has been decreasing the last 5 decades
How can we build empathy?
1. realize how important it is
2. more social relationships
3. be conscious of the science
4. care for the mothers, care givers
5. one on one attention for children
6. reading to children
7. promoting perspective taking in children
8. roots of empathy
9. play time for children
10. promote familiarity