CARING FOR TOMORROW: “Touching the past can connect us to the future, especially when we look back fondly,” says Stanford University’s Jamil Zaki

Note to Reader:

The Partnership for Water Sustainability publishes these weekly e-Newsletters to showcase and celebrate the passion, commitment and perseverance of champions who are establishing precedents for others to follow in B.C.’s local government setting. Our focus is on local government staff as well as those in the stewardship sector. The ultimate goal of the series is to inspire all the players to collaborate to ‘Improve Where We Live’.

Periodically we like to mix things up by featuring thought leaders from other sectors and other places. In this issue, we introduce Dr. Jamil Zaki. He is an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory. He wrote The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World – an inspiring call to action in this era of a rapidly changing climate. For an impression of his visionary message, watch  his TEDx Talk below.

CARING FOR TOMORROW: “Why haven’t we stopped climate change? We’re not wired to empathize with our descendants,” says Stanford University’s Jamil Zaki

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,” says Jamil Zak.

“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.”

Connecting the Past, Present and Future

“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,” continues Jamil Zaki.

“Deeply empathic people tend to be environmentally responsible, but our caring instincts are short-sighted and dissolve across space and time, making it harder for us to deal with things that haven’t happened yet. Touching the past can connect us to the future, especially when we look back fondly. Gratitude toward the past might empower us to help those who come after — a kind of golden rule across time.”

Caring about Tomorrow

Empathy is in short supply, says Jamil Zaki. Isolation and tribalism are rampant. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, he observes, 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 ground-breaking book, Jamil Zaki shares cutting-edge research, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we are born with or not—but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort.

Research shows that empathy is something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world. The future may depend on whether we accept the challenge, predicts Jamil Zaki.

“It is 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 Jamil Zak.

To Learn More:

Read the Op-Ed by Dr. Jamil Zaki which was published by the Washington Post. CLICK BELOW:

Caring about tomorrow > Why haven’t we stopped climate change? We’re not wired to empathize with our descendants!