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RSA Animate - The Power of Outrospection

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Roman Krznaric. Outrospection The 20th century I see as the age of introspection That was the year in which the self-help industry and therapy culture told us that the best way to discover who we are and what to do with our lives was to look inside ourselves to gase our enables. What we've discovered of course is that that has not delivered the good life. So 21 century needs to be different. Instead of the age of introspection we need to shift to the age of outrospection. And by outrspection I mean the idea of discovering who you are and what to do with your life by stepping outside yourself, discovering the lives of other people, other civilizations. And the ultimate art form of the age of outrospection is empathy. On the talk about what empathy is why it matters and ultimately how we can expand our empathic potential. Ofcourse empathy is more popular today as a concept than at any point in its history: Barak Obama has been talking for several years now about america's empathy deficit, we've got business people talking about empathy marketing, the neuro-scientists that measuring the empathy parts of our brains. But I think what we need to do is focus more on two things: First, the way the empathy can be part of the art of living a philosophy of life, empathy isn't just something that that expands you more universe, empathy is something that can make you more creative thinker, improve your relationships, can create the human bonds that make life worth living. But more than that empathy is also about social change, radical social change. A lot of people think that empathy is sort of nice soft fluffy concept. I think it's anything but that. I think it's actually quite dangerous. Because empathy can create revolution. No one of those old-fashioned revolutions of new states, policies, governments, laws, but something much more fiery and dangerous, which is a revolution of human relationships. Now if you open a standard psychology textbook you'll see two definitions of empathy. One of them is this: Affective empathy - empathy as a shared emotional response, a sort of mirrorerd response. So if you look at the face of this child in anguish and you too feel anguish, that's affective empathy. You're mirroring their emotions. The second kind you'll find when you open your psychology textbook is this: Cognitive empathy, which is about perspective taking, about stepping into somebody else's world. Almost like an actor looking through the eyes of their character. It's about understanding somebody else's world view, their believes, the fears, the experiences that shape how they look at the world and how they look at themselves. We make assumptions about people, we have prejudices about people, which block us from seeing their uniqueness, their individuality. We use labels. And highly empathic people get beyond that.. get beyond those labels. By nurturing their curiosity about others. So how might we nurture our curiosity where can we find inspiration. I think we can find inspiration in George Orwell, who you might think of as you know, the author of "1984", "The Animal Farm", but he was also one of the great empathic adventurist of the 20th century. You may remember or might know that he came from a very privileged background, he went to Eton, he was a colonial police officer in Burma. But what he realized in his twenties was that he knew very little about his own country, particularly about the way that that those people living on the social margins really experienced life. So he decided to do something about it and conduct one of the most brilliant empathy experiments which was to go tramping on the streets of East London. He wrote about this famous book Down and Out in Paris and London. And the important thing about Orwell's experience was that it not only expanded his moral universe and became more compassionate person, but it also cultivated his curioucity about strangers. He developed new friendships. He gathered a whole lot of literary materials he used for the rest of his life. In a way this empathy adventure it made him good, but it was also good for him. Highly empathic people tend to be very sensitive listeners, they're very good at understanding what somebody else's needs are. They tend to be also people who in conversations share part of their own lives, make conversations "two-way" dialogues, make themselves vulnerable. And worth thinking about as well is thinking about political conversations. It won't stop until we talk. This is the motto of a grassroots peacebuilding organization in Israel and the Palestinian territories called "The Parents Circle". What it does is bring together palestinian and israeli families who share something very special. These families have all lost members of their own family's in the conflict. And the "Parents circle" brings them together for conversations, picnics, meetings, where they share each other stories. They discover that they share the same pain, the same blood, they make that empathic bond. They also have other fantastic projects my favorite one is called "Hello peace!". It's a freephone telephone line. So anybody can pick up and call that number. If you're a palestinian and call it you're ammediately put through to a israeli. You can have a half-hour conversation. If you're an israeli, pick it up, you're put through to a palestinian. Since 2002 over a million calls have been logged on the "Hallo peace!" free phone line. That's the kind of project which is trying to create grassroots empathy. Now, we normally think of empathy as something that happens between individuals. But I also believe it can be a collective force, it can happen on a mass scale. When I think of history, I think not of the rise and fall of civilizations and religions or political systems. I think of the rise and fall of empathy. Moments of mass empathic flowering and also of course of empathic collapse. As you probably know in the 1780s in Britain slavery was an accepted part of society. People felt that the economy was as dependent on slavery as our economy is on oil today. Half a million african slaves were being worked to death on British plantations in the carribean. Nobody thought this could ever be eroded. But in the late 1780s there was the rise of the world's first great human rights movement. And it was a movement powered by empathy. Its leaders developed a very empathic campaign. The idea they had was to try and get people in Britain to experience or understand at least what it was like to be a slave on a slave ship, on a slave plantation. They published oral stories of former slaves talking about what it was like to be whipped until they were lying on the ground. They also ran public meetings where they showed these little instruments which were used to keep slaves jaws open to force feed them. They organize for former slaves to give talks around Britain about their experiences. And this lead to a sort of revolutionary social movement really, it lead to petitions, it lead to public protests, and led to the first great fair-trade boycott of sugar, eventually, and lead to the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 and later slavery itself. What this all lead to what it really showed was that empathy could be a collective force. We normally think of empathy as empathizing with the down and outs, the poor and marginalized those on the edges of society. I think we need to be more adventurous in who we try to empathize with. I think we need to empathize with those in power, we need to understand how those in power in whatever realm it is think about the world and their lives and their ambitions we need to understand their values. Only then are we going to be able to develop effective strategies for social political and economic transformation. Equally I think we need to apply our more ambitious thinking in policy realms such as thinking about climate change. We all know there's a huge gap between what we know about climate change and the amount of action that people are taking. (I.E. not very much). I think that gap is explained by empathy in two forms. I think there is an empathic gap in terms that we're not empathizing across space with people in developing countries like in India. Where people are being hit by climate change induced floods or droughts in Kenya. And almost more importantly perhaps we are failing to empathize through time with future generations. I think we need to learn to expand our empathic imaginations forwards through times as well as across space. How are we going to do it? I think we need new social institutions. We need for example empathy museums. A place which is not about dusty exhibits, you know like an old victorian museum, but an experiential and conversational public space. Where you might walk in and in the first room there is a human library where you can borrow people for conversations. You walk into the next room and there are twenty sowing machines and there are former vietnamese sweatshop work is that who teach you how to make a t-shirt like the one you're probably wearing. Under sweatshop labor conditions and you'll be paid five pence at the end of it. So you understand the labor behind the label. You may well go into the cafe and scan in your food and discover the working conditions of those who pick the coffee beans of the drink that your are drinking. You may see a video of them talking about their lives trying to make a connection across space and into realms that you don't know about. I think we need to think about bringing empathy into our everyday lives in a very sort of habitual way. Socrates said that the way to live a wise and good life was to know thyself. And we generally thought of that as being about being self-reflective, looking in at ourselves. It's been about introspection. But i think in the 21st century we need to recognize that to know thyself is something that could also be achieved by stepping outside yourself. By discovering other people's lives and I think empathy is the way to revolutionize our own philosophies of life, to become more outrospective, and to create the revolution of human relationships that I think we so desperately need.

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 28 seconds
Country: United Kingdom
Language: English
Genre: Animated
Producer: RSA
Views: 500
Posted by: irarmy on Feb 14, 2013

Introspection is out, and outrospection is in. Philosopher and author Roman Krznaric explains how we can help drive social change by stepping outside ourselves.

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