CARING FOR TOMORROW: Why haven’t we stopped climate change? We’re not wired to empathize with our descendants, says Dr. Jamil Zaki, director of the Stanford University Social Neuroscience Laboratory

Note to Reader:

Jamil Zaki is an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory. He is author of “The War for Kindness.” 

Empathy is in short supply, according to Dr. Jamil Zaki. Isolation and tribalism are rampant. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, he says, but find it easy to hate them. Studies show that we are less caring than we were even thirty years ago, he reports.

It doesn’t have to be this way, he writes. In his groundbreaking book, Jamil Zaki shares cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort. He also tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances.

Written with clarity and passion, The War for Kindness is an inspiring call to action. The future may depend on whether we accept the challenge, concludes Jamil Zaki. Watch the video below.

Caring about Tomorrow

With The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Jamil Zaki uses a scientific framework to drive home the idea that empathy is something that we can all learn and benefit from: “When people believe they can become more caring through effort, they put in that effort, including working harder to connect with people who look or think differently than themselves.

“Empathy evolved as one of humans’ vital survival skills. It is only through our foray into the modern world that we have lost touch with our evolutionary empathy.

“Empathy and kindness sound like rosy topics, but our culture has made them thorny,” Zaki explains. “We’re surrounded by alienation, animus, and exhaustion. These forces push against empathy, making it feel emotionally unaffordable. Choosing to care anyway requires fighting back against those forces. In many contexts, empathy is an act of defiance.”

Inaction in the face of a changing climate 

“Why would we mortgage our future — and that of our children, and their children — rather than temper our addiction to fossil fuels? Knowing what we know, why is it so hard to change our ways? One answer lies in the nature of empathy: our ability to share, understand and care about others’ experiences,” wrote Dr. Jamil Zaki in an opinion piece published by the Washington Post.

Empathizing with the future, alone, will not save the planet

“Empathy is built on self-preservation. We watch out for our children because they carry our genes, for our tribe because it offers sex, safety and sustenance. Spreading our care across space and time runs counter to those ancient instincts. It’s difficult emotional work, and also necessary. We must try to evolve our emotional lives: away from the past and toward a future that needs us desperately. Doing so might help us to finally become the ancestors our descendants deserve,” concludes Dr. Zaki.

To Learn More:

To read the complete article published by the Washington Post, download a copy of Caring about tomorrow