The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society
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"An important and timely message about the biological roots of human kindness."
—Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape
Are we our brothers' keepers? Do we have an instinct for compassion? Or are we, as is often assumed, only on earth to serve our own survival and interests? In this thought-provoking book, the acclaimed author of Our Inner Ape examines how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.
By studying social behaviors in animals, such as bonding, the herd instinct, the forming of trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, Frans de Waal demonstrates that animals–and humans–are "preprogrammed to reach out." He has found that chimpanzees care for mates that are wounded by leopards, elephants offer "reassuring rumbles" to youngsters in distress, and dolphins support sick companions near the water's surface to prevent them from drowning. From day one humans have innate sensitivities to faces, bodies, and voices; we've been designed to feel for one another.
De Waal's theory runs counter to the assumption that humans are inherently selfish, which can be seen in the fields of politics, law, and finance, and whichseems to be evidenced by the current greed-driven stock market collapse. But he cites the public's outrage at the U.S. government's lack of empathy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a significant shift in perspective–one that helped Barack Obama become elected and ushered in what may well become an Age of Empathy. Through a better understanding of empathy's survival value in evolution, de Waal suggests, we can work together toward a more just society based on a more generous and accurate view of human nature.
Written in layman's prose with a wealth of anecdotes, wry humor, and incisive intelligence, The Age of Empathy is essential reading for our embattled times.
From the Hardcover edition.
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mean-spirited weight. If biology is to inform government and society, the least we should do is get the full picture, drop the cardboard version that is Social Darwinism, and look at what evolution has actually put into place. What kind of animals are we? The traits produced by natural selection are rich and varied and include social tendencies far more conducive to optimism than generally assumed. In fact, I’d argue that biology constitutes our greatest hope. One can only shudder at the thought
intentions. He must have learned that whenever Menzel showed up, there would be yummy food around that Belle would try to lay her hands on. So Rock paid close attention to where she looked, and in which direction she moved; he was acting more like a hunter than a theoretician. Emil Menzel was the first to test what apes know about what others know. One juvenile chimp pokes with a stick at a snake in the grass. From the first chimp’s body language, the onlookers know to be cautious. Menzel’s
always find expression, giving us material to work with either by countering it, as we do when we dehumanize our enemies, or by enhancing it, as when we urge a child who is hogging all the toys to be more considerate of her playmates. We may not be able to create a New Man, but we’re remarkably good at modifying the old one. The Dark Side Have you ever heard of an organization that appeals to empathy in order to fight the lack of it? That the world needs such an organization, known as
purely on the imagination lacks strength and urgency. Hearing the news that a good friend has fallen ill and is suffering in a hospital, we’ll sympathize. But our worries intensify tenfold when we actually stand at his bedside and notice how pale he looks, or how much trouble he has breathing. Mencius made us reflect on the origin of empathy, and how much it owes to bodily connections. These connections also explain the trouble we have empathizing with outsiders. Empathy builds on proximity,
brink (Behar et al., 2008). “Tiny bands of early humans developed in isolation from each other for as much as half of our entire history as a species,” according to Doron Behar, a genographer in Haifa, Israel (Breitbart.com, April 25, 2008). 23 stretches of peace and harmony: Douglas Fry (2006) reviews the anthropological literature on warfare, defined as armed combat between political entities, and challenges the “war assumption” of Winston Churchill and others. Whereas archeological evidence