Today’s guest blogger is Jamil Zaki, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University and the author of The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World.
I’m feeling really isolated. What can I do to connect to others?
In the toughest times we need human connection most of all, yet these days many people are starved for it. How do we cultivate a sense of togetherness to others when we’re stuck at home, struggling through a global pandemic and against ongoing injustice and intolerance?
Last week, I wrote about how empathy is a skill, which we can work out like we build a muscle. Today, I want to invite you to try out some exercises at your own empathy gym, along with people from around the world.
For the last two years, I’ve taught a college seminar called Becoming Kinder, in which students put the principles from my book, The War for Kindness, into practice. Each weekend, they tried out “kindness challenges,” research-based exercises meant to push their capacity for care and understanding.
For instance, students were asked to show themselves compassion, spend time or money on someone else, or connect deeply with someone different from themselves. They were sometimes nervous to try these challenges—and often shocked by how much they enjoyed them. Researchers would not have been shocked; these exercises have been demonstrated to not only build connection but also to promote happiness and reduce stress. As the Dalai Lama said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
To help fight isolation this summer, I’ve decided to turn these exercises into a digital event: The Global Kindness Challenge. From Aug. 10-14, I’ll publish one short empathy-building exercise a day, and invite participants to try it out, share their experiences on social media, and nominate others to join in (think of it as an “ice bucket challenge” for empathy).
So please consider joining in at bit.ly/kindnesschallenge2020 and invite your loved ones to do the same. Let’s take a moment in these hard times to affirm kindness and connection—along with friends, family, and colleagues. Let’s come together, even while we have to be apart.
The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.