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Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings and perspectives of others, and to use that understanding to guide one’s actions. It has been touted as a solution to economic, social and political problems, and as the source of radical change in schools and other institutions.
But is empathy something revolutionary or just another passing fad? This series of articles interrogates these questions from a variety of perspectives.

Present perfect

With neither past nor future in common, what do relationships that exist entirely in the present have to offer? (video: 5 minutes)

Why kindness is the key to a new economy

We learn kindness from our mothers - could we use it to replace the free market with a gift economy?

Will you commit class suicide with me?

Recognizing that privilege is unearned is essential to dismantling the white saviour complex.

Where are the missing mystics of the revolution?

Mysticism can undermine the social and political order in fundamental ways.

Welcome to the empathy wars

Stepping into other people’s shoes has been a catalytic force for social change throughout human history.

Can you train your brain to be more compassionate?

We found changes in regions associated with empathy, emotion regulation and reward processing.

Should compassion be an election issue?

Compassion isn’t the property of Labour or the Conservatives, but when both parties embrace it does it mean anything at all?

Can money be a force for good?

There is more money in the world than at any other point in human history, so why doesn’t it reach the places that need it most?

Strivers and skivers? We’re all in this together

Could society be rebuilt around understanding and compassion instead of shame? The effects would be revolutionary. 

How the Home Office keeps getting it wrong on LGBTQ asylum seekers

The Home Office says that asylum seeker Aderonke Apata can't be a lesbian as she has had children with a man. The new Solidarity with Aderonke Tumblr project tells a different story.

The political emotions of Martha Nussbaum

Why does love matter for democracy? A conversation with one of the world’s leading philosophers. 

Can pluralism be taught?

Human conflict is unavoidable, but violence is not. By facing up to the ‘unacceptable’ we can learn to live with difference. 

Why we need the internet more today than ever before

Being able to transmit and receive on so many different levels to such a variety of audiences may be rewiring us for better emotional health.

Finding a way to live with people we don't like

David Edgar's Iron Curtain Trilogy shows empathy is the key to the transformation of the the left/right political divide.

Seven practical ideas for compassionate communities

It's not hard to bring more equality into each other’s lives. Here are seven concrete ideas and experiments.

Six ways to bring more empathy to the internet

How can web users promote more empathetic interaction online? This is the fifth installment in our series on social media and social transformation. 

Collective memory, collective trauma, collective hatred

Trauma runs through the narratives of both Israelis and Palestinians in the form of the Holocaust and the Nakba. But in order to rationalize their moral superiority, both sides actively deny the other’s suffering.

I know why I’m obsessed with Jews, but why are you?

Can we care for people who don't look, speak and think like us? Only greater knowledge of our own responsibility for the catastrophe in Gaza will make us act to end the killing. 

This is what life is like for an asylum seeker

Survival on £35 a week, the everyday boredom of waiting for a trial, and how the system needs to be humanised: a UK asylum seeker speaks out.

I am sorry for you, you mean well: trust and history in the making of a better world

Why do foreign aid and advice so often fail? A transformative social vision means nothing without humility.

Why don’t men care?

Caregiving is neither a male nor female responsibility - it’s what helps to make us all human. It’s time we reshaped society and social norms to make equality possible. 

Social change in Shoprite, aisle 5

Millions of Americans use supplemental food benefits each month. Along with the stigma of holding up the supermarket checkout line comes a large helping of empathy with other people.

The Religion of the Future

How can we organize a society that gives us a better chance to be fully alive? How can we reinvent religion so that it liberates us instead of consoling us? A new book provides some answers.

Uganda's 'Kill the Gays' bill: Pastor Martin Ssempa and the anti-gay lobby

You can now be imprisoned for life under Uganda's anti-homosexual law. It was pushed through by religious pastors, whose moralising arm-twisting has silenced moderate voices. If you disagree with them, you may face blackmail.

Demand homes not jails: queer homelessness is being criminalized

Cities globally are starting to criminalize homelessness: banning begging and making free food provision illegal. I work within LGBTQ communities, whose multiple oppressions lead to a high level of homelessness. When I see police disrupting rough sleepers, I remember their life stories.

Benefits Street: how austerity transformed makeover TV

Benefits Street was born from coalition government rhetoric: no one should receive 'anything for nothing'. The failure to transform is always personal. Nobody should be helped.

A year of living generously

Genuine happiness involves sharing time and money, but beware of thinking that the poor belong to some other tribe. Do not judge, presume or patronize. There are no unimportant acts of kindness.

How I stopped watching porn for one year and why I'm not going back

I remember when I first discovered internet porn – I was 17 years old. Fascinated by this world of unleashed sexual expression and fantasy, I couldn’t get enough of it. I thought I'd outgrow my porn habit over time. But I never did.

Why we need radical love to create change

Living on an isolated island with my dog, it was a departure to find myself with 4,000 other LGBTQ people at the Creating Change conference. From Laverne Cox's opening speech to my yoga workshop, I learned that love is central to queer liberation.

#Iceland3: people who take food from bins should be applauded, not arrested

The British court case against three men who "skipped" food from Iceland supermarket has been dropped. But food waste, food banks, and corporate capitalism are the real political scandal.

Aloneness is central to our collective wellbeing

Is spending time alone an escape from reality, or a gateway to more effective social action? A walk can be transformative when no one is babbling in your ear.

Literature, empathy and the moral imagination

Great works of literature are often love-letters to the form itself, but moral philosophy has rarely taken story-telling seriously. The work of Martha Nussbaum shows that the novel is key to social justice, through the role that reading plays in developing our moral imagination

Empathy: lots of lessons but no final words

What can we learn from two weeks of debate?  Empathy must be used to correct injustice, not simply to understand it or feel its associated pain. This is the final article in our series on empathy and transformation

Empathy, democracy and the economy

Democracy is lost unless we re-structure our economies, and re-structuring our economies requires a new system based on different values. This is the sixth article in our series on empathy and transformation.

Muriel Lester and the stench of injustice

Asserting the dignity of all people is a central moving force in the history of social change. This is the fifth article in our series on empathy and transformation.

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