For fall 2021 we will be reading The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. In this groundbreaking book, Zaki describes research-informed strategies for increasing kindness and empathy in a world characterized by racial inequality, political polarization, and decreasing trust in social institutions. Readers are introduced to… “a former neo-Nazi who is now helping extract people from hate groups, ex-prisoners discussing novels with the judge who sentenced them, Washington police officers changing their culture to decrease violence among their ranks, and NICU nurses fine-tuning their empathy so that they don’t succumb to burnout.” (From warforkindness.com)
Ways to Participate
Faculty — Consider using The War for Kindness (in whole or in part) in your classes. The author explores empathy research applicable to a range of disciplines including criminal justice, human services, arts and literature, education, neuroscience, technology, and social science.
Staff — Read the book alongside others in your work area. Consider the significance of the author’s arguments and findings to your role at the college. Discuss what it means to build kindness and empathy into our institutional culture.
Everyone — There will be three community-wide virtual events in the fall including group discussions, panel presentations, and community building exercises.
Thursday November 18 – 6:00pm
Meet author Jamil Zaki and discuss the book! Strategize with fellow readers on ways to spread empathy and kindness in our community. RSVP for the Zoom link.
Over the course of five weeks (October 18 to November 19), you are invited to participate in Kindness Challenges!—a series of exercises designed to strengthen your capacity for empathy. These include: Reverse the Golden Rule, Spend Kindly, Disagree Better, KindTech and Be a Culture Builder. Share your results in our community forum—coming soon!
Week of 10/18
Challenge #1 Reverse the Golden Rule: All too often we forget the importance of treating ourselves with kindness and empathy. For this challenge, extend to yourself the same understanding and forgiveness that you’d extend to someone important to you. What was this experience like? More info here.
Week of 10/25
Challenge #2 Spend Kindly: Research shows that we feel happier and less stressed when we act generously toward others. For this challenge, make a choice to spend time, money, or emotional resources on someone else. How did your act of generosity affect both you and the person you were generous towards? More info here.
Week of 11/1
Challenge #3 Disagree Better: We are living in an era of intense political and social polarization. Oftentimes we become so entrenched in our own beliefs and opinions that we fail to see the humanity in those we don’t agree with. For this challenge, have a conversation with someone who disagrees with you. Instead of debating your views, focus on the story of how you came to have them in the first place. Learn their story. Connect with their humanity. How did this experience affect your views of the issue and the person you were talking with? More info here.
Week of 11/8
Challenge #4 KindTech: Social media can be used in ways that decrease empathy in society. Genuine communication is reduced to memes, gifs, and fragmented text messages which promote narcissism, and incivility. However, research shows that social media can be used to increase empathy and human connection. The point is to use it to enhance, rather than replace, offline interactions. For this challenge, use your time online to promote empathy. Find someone who is struggling and voice your support, or reach out to someone you haven’t interacted with in a while and send them a message. How did your actions affect you and the person you connected with? Do you think you made a difference? More info here.
Week of 11/15
Challenge #5 Be a Culture Builder: As social creatures, we are profoundly influenced by our environment and the behavior of people around us. We are more likely to engage in acts of cruelty or indifference when others around us do and, thankfully, we’re also more likely to act with kindness and empathy when others do too. For this challenge, harness the power of social norms to either reinforce the positive behavior of those around you or to challenge those who act unkindly. Was it difficult for you to voice a norm to others? Do you think your actions made a difference? More info here.
Did you try one of our Kindness Challenges? Let us know here and we’ll share everyone’s good deeds with our entire reading community!