Using empathy to achieve a kinder, gentler society.
After enduring the crushing deterioration of a 10-year relationship, journalist and educator Beam (To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, 2013, etc.) offers an intelligent three-part exploration of empathy’s cultural impact. An opening section devoted to understanding and utilizing empathy charts the groundbreaking neuroscientific studies of “mirror neurons” in the brain’s sensory processing regions. The author then addresses the mixed results regarding schools that implement the teaching of empathy to both children and adults, largely due to the lack of agreement about what the sensation actually is. Beam effectively uses both personal anecdotes and a wide variety of interviews with people who have gained insight and growth from embracing empathy in addition to those who have become emotionally damaged due to a lack of empathy. She also touches on artistic empathy through the fascinating real-life story of a woman who works intimately with synthetic human replica dolls, work that “explores what’s possible in the hidden, cut-off spaces, what’s possible in the closet.” Some people divert and monetize the form and function of empathy to their benefit, as is the case with what businesses call “empathetic marketing.” As creatively explained by Beam, corporations use the term to temper the exploitative ploy of courting online users of social media sites with direct marketing advertisement. The author puts her unique spin on the mindful ideology behind forgiveness, self-empathy, and self-compassion, around which “a whole industry is now cranking,” and she spends time exploring the South African research about absolving genocide. Beam’s final commentary cohesively dovetails with her book’s narrative points on her subject and acknowledges empathy, once learned, as having the potential to be “highly moral and deeply liberating.”
A fascinating and well-rounded view of how empathy functions in society and why some cultivate it as a skill while others consider it a good moral value.