One of Rick's metaphors of empathy is that it's like, from 'Dante's
angel Virgil goes into hell with Dante. It is a companion that goes
with you in the dark parts. The companion has an arm on your shoulder
and they look out with you at the world.
I have a special interest, a particular
interest in practical methods,
useful things, found at the intersection of psychology, brain science
and contemplative practice.
00:51 - How does empathy inform your work?
I'm a practicing therapist so use it.
as husband, father and therapist am
engaged in the life of empathy
just today was talking with a couple
about the role of empathy
More broadly I think looking out at the
world today, we have
a crises of empathy in a way.
as hunter gatherer inter group empathy
didn't mater so much
in current century 1% of males died
in hunter gather culture it's
estimated 12% of males died in violence
we evolved to have empathy for us
a global economy of 7 billion needs
I have a lot of interest in how do we
build a culture of empathy?
04:07 - How can we create a culture of
Many levels of intervention
within the mind
between one person and another
other levels as well
public policy focus
1. Appreciate the skills of empathy
empathy is a skilled act - we evolved
3 major neural systems that support different aspects of empathy
a simulation of what it's like for
the other person (mirror neruons)
simulate emotions (insula comes in)
simulate thoughts or mental activity
developmental theory of mind
grounded in prefrontal cortex
05:45 so we have these 3 simulation
just because we evolved the most
empathic brain doesn't mean we can use it
need to have
people appreciate the skills of empathy
how to be more
skilled in empathy is helpful
I work with
couples who don't have very good empathy skills
It's a mater of
naming what those 3 circuits are
ways to stimulate those
it's in my
book as well
stimulate the circuits of empathy to strengthen them
fire together wire together
6:45 one part of
it is just teaching skills
1. key place to
start is in childhood
2. make skills
available in the culture
3. talking about
4. be careful
about categorizing people as them.
a lot goes on
red state -
in the brain
when you create these distinctions, you create a yellow flag for
no empathy or fearful aggression toward them
next level -
if you feel threatened by them then your in a red flag
them - the wolf of hate is looking for someone to bite
08:40 It sounds
like the first step is to articulate and teach a set of skills for
1. learning the
2. applying the
3. appreciating how
easy it is for people not to be empathic - watching the ways that
empathy gets dropped out
us and them
- often in a way that's out of proportion to reality
09:40 having the
skills of empathy as a key component of emotional literacy
literacy needs to be taught
1. needs to be
taught routinely at the level of
world with world business and diversity
2. be trained in
the factors that undermine empathy
us and them
manufacturing of the sense of being threatened
3. to appreciate
the value of empathy
it goes toward
your work Edwin
the example of
people that are nurturing and empathic toward us, tgehy can turn
to be unempathic very quickly
people that lived side by side, can turn on each other
Hutu - Tutsi
see it in couples
So it's easy to
not be empathic, it's real easy to turn off empathy
the importance of will is a key part of building a worldwide
culture of empathy
12:45 So, it's
raising empathy to be a social value?
You have to value
it, you have to see the point of empathy
A shift in values
the feeling arises
that we may want to hit someone but it's normative that we don't
generally do it as adults. there are exceptions for sure.
Or radical slurs
that were uttered 200 years ago and now considered anathema
there can be an
evolution of a value in how we conduct one selves
littering out of the car, not not so much
there's a shift of
consciousness in some regards
I'd love to see that
the balance of
assertiveness with empathy
I observe a major
obstruction to empathy - people think that if they open themselves
up for empathy,
I'm going to be
waving my rights
or that I agree
with them - they will think that I'm approving of what they're
saying when I'm actually not
No -you can be
absolutely tuned into another person who you think belongs
examples of that in my mind who have held high office in
America, but on the other hand I have empathy for them
example is Sadam Hussein - a brutal dictator. I have
empathy for his sons dieing but also think he should be in
prison for life.
We can be empathic
for people while being very assertive. In fact we can be better
assertive because we understand what is driving them
16:00 - What do you
think about the debate with Obama and conservatives related to empathy
and the Supreme Court?
sometimes we have
I'm not a legal
scholar so don't have a lot to add to that
What the issues is
getting at, I suspect is, How do we balance judgments, which are
based on rules, the constitution, statures, etc. and balance that
with a human feeling for the people involved?
my view is that
you can do both, it's not either or
it's not a
you can have a
great deal of clarity
enormous empathy for the people who will suffer
18:00 - Do you have
a metaphor for empathy?
I have a couple
1. Casting loose
from the moorings to enter the deep waters of the other person
to have enough
confidence - this is were differentiation comes in
studies show that
people who have pores boundaries actually have a hard time
Goldilocks and the 3 bears
not to hot, not to
cold, not to close, not to distant - it's the sweet spot that
So to enter the
deep waters of another persons thoughts, feelings, complex
dynamics - wow, you've got to have some confidence that your
not going to get swallowed up and never come out alive.
inferno - angel Virgil goes into hell with him
it's like a
companion that goes with you.
they have an arm
on your shoulder and they look out with you at the world
instead of sitting
across from you looking over at you
I see the
landscape of the mind is like lovely flowers and dark and smelly
One way of doing
empathy is to look over and say I see it
Another way is to
jump over with the other person, put your arm on their shoulder
and look at t
22:00 Do you have a
metaphor for the opposite of empathy?
a photo comes to me - a
photo of a man in Africa during a famine and a man walking away
steals the food from a weak man
couples in my office -a divide
people can't separate from their
own situation to tune into the other
failure of empathy
boils down to a failure of autonomy
people don't have a
grounded enough sense of me, themselves over here, it interferes
with entering into a sense of we
25:00 So in a way we
need to get grounded with ourselves?
that's often the case,
it helps to be mindful of ones own inner world.
it teaches us to be more
ware and at peace
helps to be more
centered with our self
being centered in the
self, we can then bob around in the others world
25:30 Does the
mindfulness tie in with the Buddhist work you've done?
it overlaps it
there are many was to
was part of the human
it's a mater of knowing
yourself - know thy self
It's the capacity to be
empathic with ones self
Empathy for others
begins with empathy for oneself
that means the
capacity to sense below the surface
the hurt, woundedness
or vulnerability, under the frustration, despair
tonight I want to work
on my book but I also want to relax because I'm a bit fired
to be aware of both
we need to tolerate
27:40 Empathy as a
metaphor of a mosaic made of small tiles .
I think of myself and
people as a mosaic with many tiles
it's easy to get caught
up or zero into just one tile and miss the fact that there are all
these other tiles.
it's not just one thing
this metaphor fits with
neuro science and neurons, complexity of psychology. it fly's in the
face of the monolithic self. the I is just one thing.
No, we have all kinds of layers,
it's a jungle in our
brains. it's a whole ecosystem. we had happy elves and scary tigers,
and everything else around it. that's the mosaic.
that is also consistent
with the Buddhist view that finds no final 'I' in the middle of all
29:45 For the mosaic,
do you need to step back to see the whole?
there is complexity
to be empathic is to
appreciate complexity and to be open to it.
use an investigative
a lot of what empathy is
in practice is feeling, listening. looking, beneath the surface.
being open to the
deeper, and deeper, younger, less verbal layers that produce the
surface expressions of the mind.
31:00 How do you take
the journey into empathy for the self?
I've thought a lot about
that, it's actually hard for people
I've thought of it in
terms of neural psychology, how do you do that?
Buddhism has very
developed practices for self-empathy mindfulness
1. First you have to
want to change
How many therapists
does it take to change a light bulb. Only one but the light bulb
has to want to change.
some may be afraid to
see what's there
be clear on the
reasons to be more self aware
2. We all need our
Angel Virgil - activating the felt sense of being with someone that
cares about you.
imagine being with
someone that cares about you
take the 10 seconds to
remember the felt sense of the caring
can help them more
able to open up
3. stay with it
metaphor of all the
tracks of a sound track
verbal thought track
what does this remind
investigation to know yourself better
4. talk with someone
can make it more real
5. be self empathic with
someone right now live right now
these can all be helpful
in becoming more self aware
36:14 So having
an empathy buddy imagined or real?
that can really help
there's something very
human about tell the other person
don't slip into the
masters thesis of your mind. It make no differenced
they've got the words,
the theory, the concepts but they're not in touch with themselves
feel the truth as they
37:06 I get that most
that's a good way to put
a lot of self empathy is
most of the brain is
dedicated to nonverbal processing
a lot of expression of
our truth is not verbal
a way to discover ones
truth is to play with the movement of it
what does it feel like
right now to be you?
movement can help you
discover how you feel inside.
39:00 The narrative of
your life and did you learn empathy along the way?
First memory of being
around 3, banged head, mother drive me to the emergency room for
stitches. Was in car having a deep sense of her worry, tension,
alarm.. I wanted to reassure her. First memory was organized around
there's a natural
variation of empathy among people
growing up I was at the
high end of empathy.
For some that's a
burden. i.e. the witness of the execution
The Buddhist teachings
on equanimity can be helpful for people who are very empathic.
they say the person over
there is the Nexus of any 10,000 causes upstream. few of which have
your name tag on them. they just happen
yes, empathically you
feel for the other but it's their own.
the capacity to hold
I went through a lot
In the last 10 years
neurology has been extremely powerful
understanding how the
brain works gives you a powerful insight how the mind works
For example with
empathy, when you realize there are 3 intertwined overlapping neural
networks, that tells you a lot about empathy
45:00 Any aspect of
empathy that's important that we should cover?
I think it is useful for
people to appreciate that they have a profound capacity for empathy.
I mean, we evolved arguably based on the
reproductive advantages, which is the engine of biological
evolution,... the reproductive advantages of empathy.
hunter gather bands that
had a little more empathy were able to pass that on and out compete
this process became a
very powerfully, empathy
- it cultivations, inclination to use it has been a (or the) primary
driver of our human development
brain tripled in size
and much of the capacity of the brain is devote to empathy
it's important for
people to realize how naturally empathic they are
Play with it as a skill
- like a foreign language
In a relationship it's
OK to put a want of more empathy on the table for negotiation
I work with couples
a little empathy can go
a long way.
they are not a black
hole, they just need 5 minutes of empathy
5, 10, 20 minutes a day
of real listening and engagement would just make everything so much
Well Podcast: Empathy
Last week we began the strength of Intimacy by exploring the balance of
Intimacy and Autonomy – including how a strong sense of personal
autonomy increases our ability to be emotionally intimate with others.
When we’re strongly grounded in “me,” we’re more able to be empathic
without getting flooded or overwhelmed.
Today we’re continuing our discussion of Intimacy by focusing on
Empathy, which allows us to tune into and understand other people.
0:30: Why do we need to be empathic in order to be
1:50: Where does empathy come from biologically?
5:15: Summary of the three ways we can show empathy.
5:50: Is empathy a trait that can be developed?
8:15: Sustaining your attention to other people.
10:35: Letting yourself be truly affected by another
12:30: Empathic joining vs. problem solving.
13:55: Having empathy for perspectives very different
from your own.
18:45: Ways to have empathy in the moment.
20:00: Feeling felt.
21:20: Using empathy responsibly.
22:00: Empathic imagination.
24:15: How to avoid playing the psychologist.
26:00: Being aware of true intentions.
27:40: Managing tone and using empathy to communicate.
30:25: Finding me and we through empathy.
"Welcome to WiseBrain, bringing you skillful means for happiness, love,
and wisdom – from the fertile common ground of psychology, neurology,
and contemplative practice."
2012-10-08 - The Compassionate Brain:
Activating the Neural Circuits of Kindness, Caring, and
Practical Neuroscience for Transformation, A FREE Online Event Series,
beginning Monday, October 8, 2012,
Have compassion Why?
Compassion is essentially the wish that beings not suffer – from subtle
physical and emotional discomfort to agony and anguish – combined with
feelings of sympathetic concern.
You could have compassion for an individual (a friend in the hospital, a
co-worker passed over for a promotion), groups of people (victims of
crime, those displaced by a hurricane, refugee children), animals (your
pet, livestock heading for the slaughterhouse), and yourself. Compassion
is not pity, agreement, or a waiving of your rights. You can have
compassion for people who’ve wronged you while also insisting that they
treat you better.
Compassion by itself opens your heart and nourishes people you care
1 (1/10) –
An exploration of how mindful empathy can help us hold and heal the sense
of failure, rejection, and shame that catches us in the suffering of the
belief that we are bad or unlovable.
2011-06-19 - Tune Into
Others Imagine a world in which people
interacted with each other like ants or fish. Imagine a day at work like
this, or in your family, aware of the surface behavior of the people
around you but oblivious to their inner life while they remain unmoved
by your own. That's a world without empathy. To me, it sounds like a
horror film. Without empathy, there can be no real love, compassion,
kindness, or friendship.
Did Humans Become Empathic? Empathy is unusual
in the animal kingdom, so empathy must have had some major survival
benefits for it to have evolved. What might those benefits have been?
Empathy seems to have evolved in three major steps.
First, among vertebrates, birds and mammals developed ways of rearing
their young, as well as forms of pair bonding -- sometimes for life.
"This article is adapted from a talk given at James
Baraz’s Awakening Joy class, 9/26/07 (audio posted at
and it considers four questions:
What is empathy?
How did the capacities for empathy evolve?
What’s happening in your brain when you are empathic?
How can you help activate those brain states?"
How Did Humans Become Empathic?
Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
"Empathy is unusual in the animal kingdom. So
empathy must have had some major survival benefits for it to have
evolved. What might those benefits have been? Empathy seems to have
evolved in three major steps.
First, among vertebrates, birds and mammals developed ways of rearing
their young, plus forms of pair bonding – sometimes for life. This is
very different from the pattern among fish and reptile species, most of
which make their way in life alone. Pair bonding and rearing of young
organisms increased their survival and was consequently selected for,
driving the development of new mental capacities."
2007 Empathy pdf
This article is adapted from a talk given at James Baraz’s Awakening Joy
9/26/07 (audio posted at http://www.wisebrain.org/audio.html), and it
• What is empathy?
• How did the capacities for empathy evolve?
• What’s happening in your brain when you are empathic?
• How can you help activate those brain states?