Empathy News Round-Up: Empathy genes undeterred by fear, empathy muscle-building via literature, & Arianna Huffington on how to bring America back

Submitted on Fri, April 20, 2012

Hunger Games: How Controversial Books Build 'Empathy Muscles' (Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience, April 13)The Hunger Games was on more than just the bestseller list in 2011: it also came in number three on the list of most challenged books in libraries and schools, according to a new report from the Office for Intellectual Freedom. Rather than ban potentially disturbing content, however, parents would be better off reading the books with their children, and using them as a jumping off point for discussion, says Karen Coats, an English professor at Illinois State University, specializing in children's literature. "It gives them a way to talk about emotions," Coats says. "All these kinds of questions that they won't answer directly, they will answer in the context of a literary discussion." Reading not helps kids build empathy for characters in other circumstances, but helps them to understand their own emotions. 

Nothing is more important than teaching compassion (Vinciane Rycroft, The Guardian, April 13, 2012)

In reflecting on the many ways in which education has been misused throughout the ages, author and educator Vinciane Rycroft asks what it would take to teach the next Nelson Mandela. The author cites new research that finds that teachers' social and emotional competence and personal well-being directly contribute to improvements in the learning environment, and positive developmental outcomes among students. As the founder of UK-based Mind with Heart, she explains the relationship between mindfulness, empathy, and avoiding teacher burn-out, and makes the case for why each is so essential to education.


Human Kindness Genes Withstand Threats and Fear (Maia Szalavitz, TIME, April 16, 2012) 

Make no mistake: all of us are wired for empathy. But three genes in particular make us more or less predisposed to practicing it: the brain receptor for oxytocin, and two that are receptors for the hormone vasopressin, both associated with social relationship-building. In a recent study, researchers looked at the influence of fear and perceived sense of threat impacted individuals' charitable and civic engagement. What they found was that those who lacked the genes were likely to grow more withdrawn during times of fear. For those who are genetically predisposed to kindness, however, increased threat had no deterring effect on their giving or civic activities, indicating that their hard-wiring for empathy would withstand even a threatening world. 


The Rise Of Empathy In America (Arianna Huffington, FastCoExist, April 18)

"The only way to bring the world out of the recession and onto a better track is for everyone to tap into a collective sense of responsibility toward each other." So writes Arianna Huffington, making the case that the only way to respond to today's political entrenchment is to seize the problem-solving mantle ourselves. And she has good news: it's already happening. She cites a wide array of social innovators who are putting empathy into practice, and quotes Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Empathic Civilization, to suggest that our unprecedented level of online connectivity beckons a new paradigm in which all of humanity "see[s] itself as an extended family living in an interconnected world." 


Cultivating Empathy (Discussion on Social Edge, April 2012) 

It seemed Arianna was everywhere this week, carrying the empathy torch and inviting others to join the march. "In this time of economic hardship, political instability, and rapid technological change, empathy is the one quality we most need if we’re going to survive and flourish in the twenty-first century," writes Arianna, in an excerpt from Rippling, the new book from Ashoka's own Beverly Schwartz. Social Edge is hosting a discussion on the topic for the remainder of the month, with personal responses from Arianna. Already, Ashoka Fellow Jill Vialet has jumped right in with comments. Ready to join her?