THE EM­PA­THY EF­FECT

Seven Neu­ro­science-based Keys for Trans­form­ing the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Con­nect across Dif­fer­ences

Foreword Reviews - - Foresight | Self-help -

He­len Riess, Liz Ne­porent, Sounds True (NOVEM­BER) Hard­cover $22.95 (248pp), 978-1-68364-028-8

Em­pa­thy—the abil­ity to feel deeply what an­other per­son feels—was long thought to be an in­born trait, but Dr. He­len Riess proves that life-trans­form­ing em­pa­thy skills can be taught. This comes as good news in these days when em­pa­thy and tol­er­ance seem to be in short sup­ply.

In The Em­pa­thy Ef­fect, sci­ence and story come to­gether to pro­vide sig­nif­i­cant, sur­pris­ing, and even scary in­sights into why the world is the way it is, in­clud­ing sci­en­tific stud­ies show­ing an in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween power and em­pa­thy. Riess writes, “We are wired to help, yet those in the most pow­er­ful po­si­tions to help on a grand scale are of­ten more pre­oc­cu­pied with per­sonal power, help­ing the rich, and ex­pand­ing their sphere of in­flu­ence among their sup­port­ers than mar­shal­ing ef­forts to de­crease suf­fer­ing around the world.”

Fur­ther­more, she notes, we are pre­dis­posed to fa­vor our own “tribe,” which can have life-or-death im­pli­ca­tions for those seen as part of an “out-group.” Riess gives po­tent ex­am­ples of how this men­tal­ity is be­ing played out in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety to­day, to the detri­ment of all.

The book fol­lows how em­pa­thy de­vel­ops through a per­son’s life span and how it can be taught and en­hanced at each stage—at home, in schools, in the work­place, and in the po­lit­i­cal realm. It also shows how em­pa­thy can be un­learned, with pointed ex­am­ples of the neg­a­tive ef­fects of ex­ces­sive screen time for the way we re­late to each other. But there is hope: Riess points to the rise of the mind­ful­ness move­ment that coun­ters such ef­fects, and af­firms that ev­ery­one’s em­pa­thy lev­els can im­prove with train­ing, with first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence of the strug­gles that oth­ers face be­ing es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive.

Timely, in­for­ma­tive, and com­pas­sion­ate, the book ex­plains how em­pa­thy helps break down the bar­ri­ers be­tween “us” and “them,” ex­pand­ing our bound­aries and our car­ing.

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