Empathy Gym

Jamil Zaki, author of “The War For Kindness: Building Empathy In A Fractured World”, reveals how his childhood was affected after his parents divorsed

August 24, 2019 02:43 pm | Updated 02:43 pm IST

Jamil Zaki, author of “The War For Kindness: Building Empathy In A Fractured World”, says, “I love fiction because it really allows us to effortlessly voyage into the lives of other people and not just see them from the outside but from the inside. There's a fair amount of evidence now that the more fiction that people read, the more empathic they become. Number of correlational studies show that children who read lots of storybooks versus those who read less fiction become more empathic. And that holds for adults also. Unfortunately for me, reading nonfiction like scientific articles, not that helpful…there's also some experimental evidence that even small doses of fiction produce small but reliable improvements in people's empathy. And I think this is especially important because fiction is one of the most powerful ways to connect with people who are different from us who maybe we might not have a chance to meet otherwise. And likewise, there's some evidence for instance that when people read novelistic, vivid accounts of the experiences of Arab Americans or people of different gender identities than themselves, they form greater empathy for those other groups.”

Zaki says, ‘People tend to gravitate towards ideas that have made an impact on their life. And I think for me, empathizing with my parents was a survival skill that I needed just to sort of keep my family together at some level.” Zaki’s parents began their divorce when he was eight and finished when he was twelve. That period was tough till he began treating it like an empathy gym, says Zaki.”…it taught me at a much broader level that people can be fundamentally different from each other for fundamentally similar reasons. My parents had totally different values not because one of them was wrong or because one of them was a bad person but because of the lives that they had lived and the experiences that they had had and the things that had hurt them and helped them along the way. I think that this is a lesson that I try to impart to all of my students as well is that, you know, often times when we encounter someone who's different from ourselves and has an opinion or a viewpoint maybe that we even abhor, it's easy to just view them as being either obtuse or dishonest or both. But that's a mistake. It's something that psychologists call naive realism, the idea that your version of the world is the world. And I think that empathy at a deep level is the understanding that someone else's world is just as real as yours.”

Zaki asserts, “In many cases, empathy benefits all parties involved. Patients of empathic doctors are more satisfied and also more likely to follow their advice. Spouses of empathic partners are happier… people who experience empathy for others also benefit. It's not just receiving it, but giving it helps us too.”

Top News Today

Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.