THE EMPATHIC CIVILIZATION
We’ve explored how emotions affect the brain and our actions. We’ve explored how our perceptions of reality impact our emotions. We’ve looked at how educational work to engage learners in managing, expressing, and understanding emotions is laden with values that are either explicitly or implicitly taught and modeled in learning environments. And we’ve looked at specific techniques and methods for building a strong container with our learning communities so as to encourage the expression of authentic emotion. A thread that flows through all these explorations is the fundamental theory of human nature. Biologically how and why have our emotions evolved? Is humanity’s evolving “state of nature” a positive one?
In this video, Jeremy Rifkin talks about new research that demonstrates the empathic nature of humans and how that empathy has evolved and adapted throughout history.
Several other scholars, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and primatologists have studied similar aspect of human empathy. Harvard psychology professor, Steven Pinker, explores the real world implications of growing empathy among humans in his book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. And in an interview he conducted for a video series on human nature he lays out a good challenge for us as educators – to find out what practices and customs encourage expanding empathy.
“We have a sense of empathy, which extends only to a family and friends, but which can be expanded as we realize that other people are made of the same stuff and therefore feel the same pains and pleasures. But we do have to have a set of moral norms and a set of cultural practices that lead people not to act on their aggressive impulses. By most measures we are living in particularly peaceful times. There’s less homicide than there used to be. There’s less warfare. There’s less genocide. So we’ve been doing something right. We can’t really identify exactly what it is, but it sure would be good to find out.” (The Bi-Polar Ape: Caught Between Love and War, 04:54 – 05:32).
Reflection Question: Do you feel like humans are a naturally empathic creature? Are you surprised by Pinker and Rifkin’s research that historical trends have shifted toward less violence and more peace? That human are biologically wired to be empathic and that that empathy is expanding? What experiences or information have played a key role in shaping your understanding of human nature and does this new research change your perceptions at all?
- Department of Expansion. The Bi-Polar Ape: Caught Between Love and War. July, 2010.
- Mead, Margaret. War Is Only an Invention – Not a Biological Necessity.
- Rifkin, Jeremy. The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis. Tarcher: December, 2009.
- Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Viking Adult: October, 2011.