This is not a “Christian” book but it is certainly a book that may be helpful to Christians who are trying to build empathy in their community, organization or church. I picked it up because I am rather obsessed with the brain and how it works. The author, Jamil Zaki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and also director of the Stanford Neuroscience Laboratory.
The book begins with a discussion of empathy, what it is, how it is expressed, and whether it is a trait that is static, or one that can be learned. Although some individuals are probably born with a higher level of empathy than others, studies have shown that empathy can increase.
As humans, we all have our “tribe,” people we perceive as being like us. This can be based on race, religious affiliation, political bent, etc.. We empathize more readily with those who are part of our “group.” However, exposure to individuals who are “outsiders” increases our feelings of empathy toward them. For example, I may believe that I don’t like Muslims, until a very nice Muslim family moves next door and I get to know them. So, one way to increase empathy is simply to get different groups to interact in normal, positive ways, until we realize that we do have things in common.
Reading also improves empathy …. not a surprise to me. Through reading, both fiction or nonfiction, we are exposed to different people, places and cultures, and again this exposure creates empathy. I remember giving a friend a copy of the book, The Soloist. When she returned it she told me, “I’ll never look at homeless people the same way.”
There is a chapter about technology and how it often decreases our empathy for others for a variety of reasons; however, it can also be used as a tool to provide positive feedback which may help create empathy in people diagnosed with autism, depression or anxiety.
I enjoyed this book and found some helpful insights and suggestions. It provides hope that all of us can become more compassionate, caring and kind, and we can nurture and improve those qualities in others. It wasn’t difficult read, but it does have a scientific bent, so if your interests don’t go there, you could find parts of the book boring.
MY VERDICT: 4 stars. Definitely worth reading