The book “The war for kindness” (TWFK) is written by Jamil Zaki (2019), and the author uses stories, observations, and research findings to show how people turn to hate rather than empathy in their daily lives. Zaki (2019) defines empathy as “an umbrella term that describes multiple ways people respond to one another” (p. 178). The most interesting information in TWFK is the idea of several types of empathy, such as cognitive, emotional, and empathic concern. This classification shows that individuals can show empathy in many ways. Hence, the author shows that empathy is an essential part of people’s wellbeing, yet not many individuals practice it.
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Another important idea in TWFK is people’s automatic response to hatred and aggression that is common in the modern world. Moreover, Zaki (2019) argues that people rarely hate something or someone they know, yet in the contemporary world, individuals do not take time to get to know others. Most importantly, TWFK shows that empathy is not a trait or response to stimuli, which would imply that a person cannot do anything to become more empathic. Instead, through his research, the author has proven that empathy can be learned. The first step would be no notice how one responds t different scenarios and other people and try to approach situations with empathy rather than hate or aggression. The main idea of Zaki’s (2019) book is that people should change their attitude towards others and approach them with empathy rather than hate because one can learn to become more empathic.
Since Zaki’s book focuses on empathy, and the latter relates to interpersonal interactions and social wellbeing, there are many connections with the textbook information. In Chapter 10, McCutcheon et al. (2014) discuss the role of aggression and violence and their characteristics, as well as how these emotional responses manifest in social settings. Social psychology principles that are mentioned in the textbook are the descriptions of reactive and proactive aggression. When examining empathy, most reactive aggression cases can be stopped if the individuals use empathy to understand the motives behind other people’s actions. For example, in a case with an accidental crash on a racing track, reactive aggression was a response that one of the drivers showed towards an accident (McCutcheon et al., 2014). If he were to use cognitive empathy, he would understand that the other driver did not crash on purpose, which would limit his aggressive response. Moreover, the studies on the prefrontal cortex show that people have the inbuilt ability to stop their aggression (McCutcheon et al., 2014). Empathy may be an answer to how to stop aggressive behavior.
Empathy could help prevent many horrible events that happen because people feel misunderstood and excluded. An opening story in Chapter 10 of the textbook describes a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary (McCultheon et al., 2019). While it is challenging to sympathize with the shooter after he had committed this terrific crime, some details about his past show that lack of empathy within society triggers people. The shooter had Asperger’s Syndrome and a strained relationship with his mother, which most likely affected his ability to connect with others. Hence, the textbook explains how aggression emerges, develops, and manifests within society, while TWFK shows how empathy can help prevent aggression from occurring in the first place.
The main focus of TWFK is empathy, and there are many real-world applications of this concept that highlight how the use of this sense would make people’s lives better. The recent cases of police brutality in the United States show that society lacks compassion and that many law enforcement officers cannot deal with stressful situations without showing aggression. For example, in 2019, a police officer shot an unarmed man in a hotel (Ortiz, 2019). Notably, the bodycam footage shows that the man was on his knees and was sobbing while the police officer continuously yelled at him. As a result, the man was killed by the officer, even though there was no apparent danger. Arguably, if the police officer used cognitive empathy to evaluate the situation and considered that this man was in a position where he could not attack, and emotional empathy to understand that this individual was in distress, the tragedy could have been avoided.
From my perspective, the TWFK accurately shows the problems of our society that lead to more significant issues such as hatred, racism, police brutality, and others. Considering the textbook material, I think that empathy is a great way to deal with personal aggression and understand why others may react aggressively to stop the chain reaction. I like that the best part of TWFK is that the author has written this book based on many observations and experiments and not merely based on his reflection about empathy. For example, in one chapter Zaki (2019) describes an experiment where he asked students to walk around campus without their smartphones to observe if they could be more empathic and connect with strangers they meet better. He also used experiments with oxytocin and observations in a different setting to see how empathy manifests in different scenarios. Hence, many practical examples and extensive research are supporting Zaki’s findings, which is the best part of the book because I enjoy using practices backed by evidence.
I agree that empathy has many applications and can be beneficial for society, for example, in the case of felons sharing their opinions on a book with DA and judges, which resulted in reduced conviction time and lesser crimes after the former served their sentences. I disagree that not all people can learn empathy since there are clinical conditions such as psychopathy that make it impossible for an individual to understand others’ feelings. One thing I dislike about Zaki’s (2019) book is the lack of focus on how to train empathy and how to teach others to be more empathic. On the one hand, this results from the book being primarily a summary of the years of research that Zaki (2019) spend. Perhaps an excellent addition to this work would be a workbook or a list of recommendations that readers would use to train themselves to become more empathic.
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Before reading TWFK, I thought that empathy was an inborn quality, but not all people use it and allow it to develop into a strong sense of compassion for others. Hence, many adults nowadays lack empathy, and they need to practice it. TWFK convinced me that empathy is something that people need to actively work on because, when linking the book’s content to that from the textbook, the automatic response to stressful situations is aggression. Notably, Zaki (2019) argues that the Roddenberry hypothesis is not valid, and in fact, empathy is not inborn and has to be trained. In summary, from this study of empathy, I concluded that social scientists and psychologists should pay more attention to this element because it can improve many aspects of our lives.
McCutcheon, L. E., Hackney, A., & Hart, J. (2014). Social psychology for today’s world. CAT.
Ortiz, E. (2019). Police officer who fatally shot sobbing man temporarily rehired to apply for pension. NBC News. Web.
Zaki, J. (2019). The war for kindness: Building empathy in a fractured world. Crown.