Posted in Communicating for Social Change, Compassion, Empathy

Hope for The Empathic Civilization

Feeling discouraged about the racism, hate-mongering, xenophobia, and bullying that appear to be dominating the national conversation this election cycle? A friend, who knew that I would be, sent me this wonderful little animation this morning. I am sharing it to encourage hope — and action.

The film, The Coming Birth of The Empathic Civilization Will Be One of The Greatest Moments in Human History, is created by RSAnimate to animate a 2010 speech by Jeremy Rifkin. The speech was based on his 2009 book, The Empathic Civilization. The encouraging message from the film is that we have the biological and technical capacity to become an empathic civilization:

  • The discovery of mirror neurons reveals that we are hard-wired to experience another’s suffering as if it is our own.
  • Studies across a variety of disciplines show that we are soft-wired for “sociability, attachment, affection, and companionship,” rather than “aggression, violence, self-interest, and utilitarianism.”
  • Our fundamental empathic drive is to belong.
  • We show our solidarity with others through compassion.
  • History shows that civilization has grown as the circle of empathy has widened from tribe, to religion, to nation-states. That is, “to empathize is to civilize.”

The challenge now is to take the next steps, to “rethink the human narrative” and human institutions in such a way that we can extend empathy to the entire human race, other creatures, and our biosphere. Moreover, Rifkin’s broader message is that we need to do so because we are at a “pivotal turning point for our species.”

The question is how. This is no small endeavor (as we can see in the headlines on any given day), but what a life-affirming project to pursue. If you are motivated for this kind of change, one place where you can go to examine the possibilities is the website, The Culture of Empathy. There, Edwin Rutsch has curated a collection of ideas and conversations on the subject from a wide range of scholars and practitioners. Maybe this wealth of wisdom will encourage your own ideas, too. At the very least, it will encourage hope.


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