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The War for Kindness

Book Notes

This book is referenced many times in The Happiness Lab podcast. Lori Santos mentions it also in her class, The Science of Happiness. When a scientist is recommending a book, and refers to it many times, might be time to go to the source and read it yourself.

Which I strongly recommend with this book.

Actually, I recommend this book for anyone with a polarized viewpoint of the world, because the book shows, if you're willing to read and ponder, how alike we are, how divided we are, and how we can walk a path towards not being divided.

Takes effort to build empathy, and, yet, the rewards are amazing. Honestly, I think hate and spite take too much effort.

Anyway, if you'll read, I'll buy you a copy. Strongly recommended.

Online, the first thing we encounter about a person is often the thing we’d like least about them, such as an ideology we despise. They are enemies before they have a chance to be people.
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Work from many labs, including my own, suggests that empathy is less like a fixed trait and more like a skill—something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world.
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Carol Dweck teaches people that they can grow—become smarter, more open-minded, and more empathic. This causes them to work harder in the moment, persevere in the face of challenges, and notice their own strength. But mindsets, for instance about intelligence, can also produce slow-twitch change by turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. People who believe in themselves do things that give them even more reason to believe. They adopt habits of mind that work over the long term.
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Research demonstrates that when people try to convince someone else of something, they often convince themselves in the process.
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Fiction is empathy’s gateway drug. It helps us feel for others when real-world caring is too difficult, complicated, or painful.
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Propagandists create fear and confusion, and then offer community and safety to those willing to toe the line.
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LIFE AFTER HATE surprised me because it didn’t focus exclusively on overturning members’ prejudice toward outsiders. It started by building their compassion for themselves. Likewise, novels, plays, and fiction can help readers recast their own lives through the characters they meet, especially when they desperately need a new story to tell.
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As we’ve seen, when people feel like someone else’s pain will overwhelm them, they steer clear.
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Patients of empathic physicians tend to be more satisfied with their care, are more likely to adhere to medical recommendations, and even recover from illness more quickly than those whose doctors are more detached.
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In one study, people kept a diary for two weeks—each day, they reflected on the most intense emotional experience they’d gone through. How happy, amused, and joyful did it make them feel? How nervous, angry, or sad?
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Police officers are safer than they have been in decades, but coming into contact with them is more dangerous.
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This reflects Rahr’s viewpoint: “In law enforcement,” she explains, “empathy is still viewed as a weakness, or catering to political correctness, but really it’s critical to officer safety. Police officers deal with people in crisis, and having your trauma acknowledged lowers the tension. Listening is a de-escalation strategy.”
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But what does empathy mean without accountability? When an officer can kill you with legal impunity, having them ask how you feel is cold comfort. Part of the problem is that even police officers who empathize with citizens often empathize more with one another.
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But in order for police officers to repair their relationships with wary communities, they may need to treat their colleagues with more skepticism, acknowledging wrongdoing even when it involves people they admire.
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In southern France’s dolmen d’Er Roh, archeologists discovered Neolithic gold beads: tiny, with intricate striping and spiral patterns molded into them about four thousand years ago. Touching one of those beads, we might imagine the person who crafted it a hundred generations ago, and the person who might hold it a hundred generations from now.
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I had the same feeling walking on Antarctica. This ice has been in this place for millions of years. How amazing is that?

It’s easy to live in a less intentional way. Building a new sort of empathy takes effort and sacrifice, for people who might not repay it. But in the face of escalating cruelty and isolation, we are fighting for our moral lives. Doing what’s easy is seldom worthwhile, and in moments like these, it’s dangerous. We each have a choice, and the sum of our choices will create the future.
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Science is not a set of facts, but a process of predicting, testing, and rethinking. It is alive.
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Most strong evidence is alike, but imperfect evidence tends to be imperfect in its own way.
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