Sam Richards

This conversation is closed.

How might a person step into the shoes of an "anti-American terrorist" and NOT be labeled "anti-American"?

It seems as though we often label people "anti-American" on one side and "ignorantly patriotic" on the other -- and then once we determine which category a person falls into we often stop listening because we think that we already understand him or her.

I think I know myself quite well and I don't fall into either one of these groups. I'm just a person who is deeply committed to understanding what other people have to say and I am constantly surprised to find out that what I imagine a given individual thinks is often not at all what they believe (or that it's only one small slice of complex web of thoughts). So I suspect that most of us are really more alike than we imagine but too often we don't take the time to sit down with people who we perceive to be our "adversaries" in ideological jousting. By not doing so we miss out on our great many similarities.

Of course, what is really at work is that by "not doing so" we are also able to keep our sense of self in tact because we don't have to challenge ourselves to change what we think and believe.

So getting back to my question at hand, is this just a task that no American should ever do? Is it just out of bounds or is there a way to do it? Is some of the negative backlash from my talk a result of the fact that I empathized so well or was it more because I fell short of my goal?

Closing Statement from Sam Richards

I write this final answer from Kuwait City, where once again I find myself confused about the world -- as I probably should be and probably should always hope to be. I've been engaged in conversation with people from so many points on the political spectrum and find the range of opinions varied and vast. Interestingly enough, however, what I keep encountering is a sense that Americans can seem a bit thin-skinned when it comes to a critique of their own country. Not everyone says this, mind you, but it's a perspective that keeps coming around...and around...seemingly so often that I might be able to accept that it might just be how it is.

What I keep stumbling over with people is the many similarities that are shared by people from different cultures. "We need to stay focused on our commonalities," people say. And I fully agree. In fact, our work on the World in Conversation Project does this very thing. We focus on what unites people and no what divides them. "If we could only put people in a room and have them share a coffee," one Kuwaiti man mused.

What would happen would be that people would empathize with one another's lives -- people would see a little of him or her self in that person across the room as the conversation unfolded.

After a long and fruitful conversation this afternoon my wife asked me what stood out and I replied that I never really put myself in the shoes of a Kuwaiti after the Iraqis invaded in the summer of 1990. For Kuwaitis it was traumatic; for me it would have been traumatic and I, too, might have hugged George Bush as one man told me he did when Bush visited in 1991. And so I guess my job is to remain open to trying on new pairs of shoes and stepping outside of my own small little world.......and then doing it again, and again, and again. And pretty soon I might begin to make sense of what us two-leggeds are really all about.

Thanks for the comments.

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    May 10 2011: Sam,

    I'd say one way to NOT be labeled Anti-American by stepping into the shoes of Anti-American terrorists, is to ALSO step into the shoes of people who label you anti-American.

    Radical refers to what is essential, at the core. Seems to me what is essential to you is engaging empathy.

    Which I think you could do by somehow not over-defending your efforts or over-identifying to others, including BOTH Anti-American terrorists AND those who label you anti-American. Not easy, but not impossible either.

    A story from a colleague of mine you may know:

    Harry Boyte, who is white, worked with Martin Luther King Jr. during the American civil rights movement.

    After visiting a friend jailed for demonstrating, Boyte was approached by members of Ku Klux Klan. Calling him, among other things, a Yankee Communist. Without denouncing his beliefs or debating theirs, Harry identified with them. Mentioning he wasn't either, but that he was a Christian southerner who simply believed whites and blacks could work together on shared concerns.

    The tense conversation turned. One Klansmen agreed poor whites’ issues intersected with blacks around economic inequities. And, likely spurred by Boyte’s disclosure, added a disclosure of his own. Mentioning he held Hindu beliefs that didn't fit the Christian KKK stereotype.

    This unlikely exchange sparked a dialogue that set seeds for an unforeseeable transformation weeks later. At a demonstration in front of SCLC the Klansman saw Boyte and waved. MLK noticed. And seeing the populist possibilities, redirected Boyte to focus on organizing whites to the cause.

    It was a powerful “embrace the enemy” lesson that Boyte has engaged to useful effect working with everyone from presidents to soldiers, bi-partisan leaders to football players and many, many grassroots groups in the US and abroad.

    Andrea
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      May 10 2011: Hi Andrea..So glad to have your voice in this conversation which has been a bit tricky at times..Your Boyte story is such a great example of the power in stepping outside the polemics that limit possibility. I look forward to Sam's reply to you. Thank you.
    • May 10 2011: Love the story. Thank you, Andrea.

      Marshall Rosenberg has many inspiring stories about turning tense situations around through non-violent communication.

      One issue I struggle with is deciding when the effort is no longer worth the trouble. On one of his other threads, Sam talks about not wanting to take the time to empathize with sociopaths, for example. It's possible, but also extremely difficult. At some point the art of active listening verges over into psychotherapy. And it can go over the edge into getting "played" by the sociopath.

      One can imagine how well matters would have gone for Boyle had the tension not turned -- had the Klansmen rejected his peaceable overture and instead begun poking him in the chest, trying to provoke a fight. That Boyle didn't reflexively provoke that response in the Klansmen stands to his credit -- that they didn't respond that way stands to theirs.

      In this electronic environment, a certain level of civility allows conversation to continue. Not all people respect that, and some appear to not know how to respect that. They doubtless have a truth to share, but how much chest-poking is tolerable? At what point do you give up?

      I could, for instance, attend one of Sam's lectures, and at every full stop in his delivery I could stand up and shout, "You're a liar!" He might try to engage or empathize with me for a while, but at some point he's going to ask me to leave the classroom. Is he denying me my opportunity to speak my truth? I don't really think so -- I've denied myself the right to be heard.

      There are other far more subtle ways I could "argue" with Sam in the classroom for the purpose of arguing, not of reaching common understanding, that would be equally disruptive. At some point, he would need to shut me down. Or give up on the talk.
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        May 10 2011: of course there's a limit to chest poking and screaming..I'm not suggesting we have to endure that untill whatever truth is there comes forward, I am, though suggesting, that we must never forget that there, most likely is an important truth there underneath all that sputtering and yelling and stone throwing. If there isn't some way to those truths, then there is no way to peace....but I suspect our friend nichola was feigning his/her tantrums and contradictions like nicola in the movie.."I am the Walrus"
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        May 11 2011: Joseph,

        Boyte was terrified. They were taunting him. HIs reaction was equally as much survival instinct as peaceful negotiation.. He was alone, there were six of them. The possibility of violence was clearly implied if not communicated. I just saw Harry tonight, wished I saw your comment before. I could have asked him for more. But you can find the story in his book "The Citizen Solution."

        And Boyte had certainly witnessed violence of the KKK prior. His father was the first white man on SCLC. There is more on their story in archives at Duke Library and in books on MLK.

        As to your point about civility. It is a topic near and dear. I recently wrote an essay called Discerning Humanity after Bin Laden's Death. You can find it here: http://dynamicshift.org/

        What came to mind as I wrote it was how we often tend to "do humanity" best only in hindsight. The Holocaust, which I mention in the piece, is a very good example. Hate rhetoric, sadly, often prevails long prior. When we call into question the sanity or saliency of others positions without also reflecting on the same of ourselves, we can very quickly lose perspective. When we do so in public forums as this, the implications can accelerate commensurately. In other words, the loudest or most persistent voices might be vented, with little effect other than all digging in and defending more.

        The trick is not losing perspective with tit-for-tat rhetoric or silent submission. And if chest-poking persists still, to engage with others who can sustain mutually constructive debates for a while. Sometimes provocateurs' (as Boyte's KKK connection) come around. Sometimes, not. A good outcome can be perceived if you've invited more people into a sustained and important conversation wherein all can learn together with reasonable dignity and civility maintained.

        Change takes a mix of inter-relational agitation and cooperation -- and a lot of people passionately trying to get it right, together.

        Andrea
        • May 11 2011: Lovely response! Thank you.

          I agree that the trick is to maintain perspective. That's how you stay centered, and grounded.

          There are also techniques that help, though I haven't yet figured out how to engage them in these environments. For instance, one is to simply repeat back what you heard: "You are saying that xxx..." You don't have to agree with "xxx", but you do have to get it right, which sometimes means not paraphrasing -- but even if you do paraphrase, then the other person has the chance to say, "No, no, no, what I meant was xxx-2..." Once you can accurately repeat back what the other person actually SAID, it's a surprisingly big step toward real communication.

          This works really well in a 1-on-1 verbal conversation, but in a group setting it becomes problematic, and in a BB setting like this, it doesn't work very well at all: it's redundant and time-consuming.
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      May 12 2011: Andrea. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I'm fully in agreement with you in that the "way out" of what appears to be a trap is to keep empathizing. It's funny, really, that the way I survive as an iconoclast is to believe that if people really understood what I am saying, then they'd agree with me.

      Okay, so at first glance that seems obvious because of course they would -- they'd essentially BE me so naturally they'd see the world as I do. But really, when I tackle a contentious issue I spend a lot of time trying to get people to step into my shoes and see what I'm seeing. I don't want them to take on my perspective as their own, but I want them to see all of the factors and forces that illuminate what I'm saying and fully see another perspective -- and then head out into the world knowing that their view of the world is not the only one that makes sense. What I next want to happen is for people to be confused and then have to rethink their own personal ideologies because I've shattered their belief system by giving them at least one valid way of seeing the world that is different from the one they have. Does this make sense?

      So I can never get too radical (left wing or right wing) because to do so makes it extremely difficult for me to get inside of people's minds and weaken the foundation. It keeps me honest and forces me to be very careful when choosing my words.

      So if you're wondering whether I secretly want people to think like me I can only say that such a thing would be impossible. It took me fifty years to develop my view of the world and I can no more impart that onto another person than I can circle the earth by flapping my arms.

      So when people see me as "anti-American" I can only keep searching for new ideas that allow me to break through that particular lock because, since I'm not anti-American, it's clear that I haven't succeeded in presenting my perspective in such a way as to unloosen the screws, so to speak.
      • May 12 2011: So I have a question, Sam. Do you ever hit a wall in your attempts to empathize?

        You mentioned on a different thread that you don't try to empathize with sociopaths, and that's understandable. But I'm wondering how much of your experience of empathy is conditioned by the fact that you deal mainly with students in an academic setting in the eastern US, who (as you put it) have middle-of-the-road responses.

        Colorado and much of the west is badly fractured -- we have a lot of prevalent and very extreme views out here, almost all of them far-right. Read any of the rhetoric of Arizona's Sharron Angle (from the 2010 elections), and you get a pretty accurate snapshot of what large groups of people out here passionately "believe." She isn't just a nutcase -- she's a true representative.

        I simply can't cross that divide.

        By comparison, I find it easy to empathize with (get into the head of) a terrorist. After all, The Terrorist has been part of our popular culture for a long time in the icon of the "vigilante." Batman. Any Clint Eastwood movie. These guys don't file grievances and restraining orders -- they beat the shit out of the "bad guys," who are usually protected by power and wealth and civic standing. They terrorize evildoers, and large numbers of Americans relish seeing that terror (so say the box-office receipts).

        But how can one empathize with Sharron Angle?
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        May 13 2011: Sam,

        I like Marshall Ganz's ideas of public narrative as critical for leaders seeking to, as you put it "unloosen the screws" for social change. And much agree with his thoughts on articulating one's earliest personal story. He says: "Storytelling is at its most powerful at beginnings -- for individuals, their childhood."

        I often see a "hidden humanity" emerge in even the most sophisticated and/or hardened people when they either share their own or hear of their "opposite" others' formative times. The vulnerability and earnestness of childhood is a universally connective experience. We've all walked in the shoes of a child, and can thus empathize.

        One of my favorite essays to write was about two little boys I tutored who struggled with reading issues. Both in their way were brilliant. I couldn't help but imagine the brilliant minds puzzling how to fix schools were likely much like these two little guys when they were kids. One highly kinetic and way beyond chatty, the other timid and clumsy, but near savant-smart. Both a little disheveled. Sound like any profs you know? ;-).

        So, as for your Americanism, perhaps it would engage others if you shared transformative times from those 50 years going back to when you, for example:
        First became conscious of the ravages of war? (ie: Mine was in 1972, when I was 8, and saw the "napalm girl" who was about the same age. The image has been seared on my mind ever since.)
        Felt with utter clarity your race/Americanism?
        Felt a sense of us Americanism as in: Go-USA? When any tensions that divide us faded away for moment or two?

        Finally -- to invoke two voices from different sides of the political continuum:
        Saul Alinsky: "The clash of radicals, conservatives and liberals which makes up America's political history opens up the fundamental question: What is an American? (...) It boils down to one simple question: Do you love people?"
        David Brooks: "How can you say you love America when you hate half of it?"

        Andrea
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    May 8 2011: A very efficient tactic in the "land of the free" has been to bully anyone that questions the lynch-mob mentality into submission. You either cheer death or you're unpatriotic. Too many monopoly-patriots think that Turkey is a bird, Hungary is the feeling you get when you see the bird and Paris is a town in Texas. The USA desperately needs empathy or the empire will implode.
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      May 8 2011: Excellent Kevin!! A restatement in simple practical terms of "radical empathy" what Sam'r teaching is enouraghing us to practice in our daily lives and in all discourse..especially here at TED ( I hope).
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          May 8 2011: How so, nichola? I heard ( interpreted)Kevin as giving a big thumbs up on "radical empathy" and actually restating it in a very practical acessible way. How do you see his comment as departing from Sam's teaching on radical empathy? Because he's giving a thumbs down(not practicingradical empathy) to bullies and to those not willing to consider the invitation to rise above to a higher plain and a more complete view? That's getting a little too convoluted for me. I am still on Radical Empathy 101.
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          May 8 2011: still not following you..and getting the idea that's fine with you...doesn't the term :"radical empathy" include a meaning that is not yet in the dictionary under plain old "empathy"? ( and by the way..I am not a cheerleader fior anything..I am still trying to work through these many differnt TED Conversations to explore what Sam meant. by "Radical Empathy" and to work with that on my own terms ( I am interested in both what Sam says about it and also in my own exploration and where that takes me)
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        May 10 2011: Lindsey: Correct, I gave a thumbs up to Sam Richards' message, and yes, I do loath all kinds of bullies. And yes, restatements "in simpe practical terms" is what I aim for and "do".

        The longer version would be that SR's message has roots in ancient Taoism and Stoicism, can be found in Kings Solomon's Proverbs as well as in the 7 Deadly Sins, and the original 4 Holy Virtues (temperance, wisdom, justice, and courage). It is also echoed in Kathryn Schulz's TED speech about "Wrongology".

        Remember,Richards' initial premise was: how do you understand and practice sociology?
        The ancient answer is: To see the truth, you must have the courage to let go of your preconceptions. To fully gain insight in the truest essence of things, you need to temporarily "become" them.

        Sunzi (Sun Tzu) the legendary Chinese general and military strategist, wrote: "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

        Moral: ontologically, psychologically or sociologically — empathy simply makes smart sense.

        Ps: I do not agree with Sam Richards' definition of sociology as: "the study of the way in which human beings are shaped by things that they don't see." In my view he describes psychology or metaphysics. To me, sociology is the study of human interaction and all facets of social organization. But that semantical debate is polemical here and belongs in another context.


        --

        Some observations:

        • Time Magazine, 1995, on Emotional Intelligence: http://ti.me/jzkNql

        • Kathryn Schulz, Wrongology: http://on.ted.com/9A3h

        • Stoicism /Seneca: http://bit.ly/izJ1er

        • Sun Tzu/ Sunzi - Art of War: http://www.chinapage.com/sunzi-e.html

        • Dr Paul Ekman, 'cognitive empathy' specialist and the original profile behind the 'human lie-detector' drama "Lie To Me": http://www.paulekm
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          May 10 2011: Kevin..thank you for this..for locating "radical empathy" in the wisdom traditions. This conversation would probably have developed very differently if your Sun Tzu quote had come in earlier. I hope Nichola is still checking in on us and sees this. Also Andrea's insightful comments, below, and sharing of the Boyte story frame "radical emoathy" in a more accessible way. Kevin, thank you for your wisdom..and your great links. Any converstaion you & andrea turn up at is one well worth engaging and listening to.
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          May 12 2011: Well, not I have to jump in here. I teach sociology as the study of freedom. That's all it is, in my humble opinion. We study the ways in which our behavior is shaped by factors and forces outside of our control. Patterns emerge, mind you, different forms of social organization -- but these patterns emerge because of things that we don't see. And this means that our behavior is shaped by those same things.

          So suicide rates are constant. Hmm...that's odd. Does this mean that the same number of individuals just happen to decide to take their own lives year after year? How is that when suicide is a psychological act? Clearly something else must be influencing people's decisions to kill themselves...something invisible...something they don't see...some strange social force.

          So are we free to act independently of those factors and forces? This is the sociological question.
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          May 12 2011: Hi Sam , i have to jump in here.So are we free to act independently of those factors and forces? This is the sociological question--what are the thoughts or answers there (which is another topic ,i know) thats something i have been thinking hard on so get very curious to know.mind if...?
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        May 10 2011: Lindsey: Thanks for your words.

        For the record: I am not sure I "get" what Sam Richards means by "radical" empathy. I don't think he's an excellent storyteller. I think that both how he phrased his main question and his choice of themes in the TED speech are counterproductive. 'Come to think of it, actually, I don't think that empathy necessarily equals understanding.

        As Plato, Aristotle and especially Seneca concluded: emotions, are irrational, brain-less and essentially detached from intellectual processes. Empathy as an emotion can make you "feel" what someone else is experiencing — that doesn't mean you will automatically be able to "wrap your mind" around why or how.

        Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote a great piece in 2007 about the nuances, titled: "Three Kinds of Empathy: Cognitive, Emotional, Compassionate".

        Perhaps Professor Richards himself will elaborate on which one(s) he is preaching. I would guess it's very similar to what Paul Ekman excellently explains as "cognitive empathy". Just perhaps with a sociological, ideological and ultimately patriotic nuance.

        There's incidentally a great speech by leadership specialist Rosabeth Moss Kanter, about how open minds and cognitive empathy is what made America a super-power.

        Bottom line: I wholeheartedly agree with Sam Richards' message, which I interpret is that, in essence: disturbing emotions can be used constructively by those who are intellectually brave.

        ---------

        Related:

        * Unfortunately, one link was cut-off in my previous post: The link to Dr Paul Ekman's website — http://www.paulekman.com

        * "Three Kinds of Empathy: Cognitive, Emotional, Compassionate"
        June 12, 2007 | by Daniel Goleman | http://bit.ly/imz6xE

        * "Disturbing emotions can be used constructively" | Daniel Goleman and Paul Ekman: http://bit.ly/kARdO4

        * Rosabeth Moss Kanter, about open minds versus efforts to close minds:
        | seminar for the Long Now Foundation. | http://fora.tv/2007/11/09/Rosabeth_Moss_Kanter
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          May 10 2011: thanks kevin..I am quite keen to follow up on your suggestions..especially cognitive empathy.. I found this definition of cognitive empathy in a paper on bi-polar disorder:".the ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own."hopefully that's what Sam means by radical empathy..though as Andrea points out radical means root so perhaps radical empathy is a special brand of cognitive empathy.Actually, I think I am pretty much finished with tryimg to understand what Sam is talking about. I've harvested all I need to harvest at the moment.. I think this has all been very fruitful and covered very interesting ground but that my own further exploration of its possibilities as a daily practice will be elesewhere. Thank you for your wonderfully invigorating and insightful contributions to this conversation..
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          May 12 2011: Well...I have to think that empathy goes well beyond feeling. How do we really disentangle feelings and thoughts? Can we at all? Probably in some ways while in other ways the two are so convoluted that it's impossible. For me, empathy involves all avenues of perception. Sure, I am always going to fall short but I think I can get there to some degree.

          I can think my way into the shoes of the women holding the flag in the photo of my talk...and I can feel my way into those same shoes. I'm never really in those shoes because I'm here and she was there (wherever there was). But at the same time, every woman who has ever held a flag has a completely different experience of that moment and so surely what I'm imagining must be pretty much exactly like one of them...somewhere...at some point in time.
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        May 12 2011: Sam, thanks for jumping in and elaborating on your frames of reference.

        It would seem to me that empathy equals a high level of »awareness«, and in that sense includes some form of phenomenological and cognitive »understanding«. However to discuss from at least a basic establishing of reference criteria, the radical definition of empathy unequivocally points to "feeling":

        — The psychologist Edward Titchener (1867-1927) introduced the term “empathy” in 1909 into the English language as the translation of the German term “Einfühlung” (or “feeling one’s way into”)...*

        Nevertheless, I "hear" you. Thanks for a critically important speech and for initiating an important follow-up discussion.

        Sincerely,

        Kevin


        .............

        * Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/empathy/
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          May 12 2011: Wow Kevin, I have not thought of Titchener's work for a very long time. I was not aware that he is credited with establishing the English word empathy. Thanks for teaching me that!
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        May 12 2011: ...

        Lindsey: You have certainly put in a good deal of time and participation into this discussion.

        I have not read the full debate, as I was already distracting myself from another urgent focus. It seems to me too however, that the talks so far has reached "critical mass". Everyone has contributed in their way.

        Thanks for your words. I'm glad whenever all of my decades of midnight oil, put into exploring human existence*, can be put to some use, and inspire to some degree.

        Incidentally, it's not only the words 'radical' or 'empathy' which have been generally turned upside-down or skewed in our contemporary world, but virtually every word.
        Cynicism is for example a good thing and in my opinion a requisite for true empathy. You find surviving true cynics among Buddhists today.

        Thanks for being on the same "frequency". Yet another chronically misquoted source, Niccolò Machiavelli, wrote in The Prince that:

        — There are three classes of intellects: one which comprehends by itself; another which appreciates what others comprehend; and a third which neither comprehends by itself nor by the showing of others; the first is the most excellent, the second is good, and the third is useless.

        To recognize insight, you have to see a line as a line (which by the way Theodor Lipps defined as a requisite for empathy). So, In my humble opinion, thanks yourself.

        Sincerely,

        Kevin
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        May 10 2011: Dear Nicola, your comments open up a barrage to such challenging questions, so semantically intricate, that my mind gets paralyzed from not knowing how to compute or respond. Instead of getting into any polemics, the simplest of these questions in mind would be: how do YOU define empathy?

        I think maybe I "get" and agree where you're coming from. But I'm not sure I "feel" ya.

        Here's what makes semantics complicated to me:
        There are a 100+ dialects of English and then there are sociolects. One recent resulting complication is when celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay claimed on American Idol that "hot dog" is not a form of sausage. I was baffled! All dictionaries beg to differ. The word stems from an 1893 American description of a "Frankfurter", which is a sausage (http://bit.ly/jn93EX). Yet I couldn't find one review that reacted on Ramsay's claim. And on the show, all but one contestant agreed with Ramsay!

        Before I commented on Sam Richard's question, I looked up "empathy" in 10 dictionaries. I was reminded of the shallow nature of dictionaries. Dictionary entries are close to shorthand (stenographic) definitions of topics. That often creates a skewed interpretation of the full meanings of words. In the case of "empathy", all dictionaries gave the sense that it simply is another word for sympathy. When I checked the roots (the etymology) I discovered that different dictionaries also offered one-sided or shallow - even contradictory - descriptions.

        Encyclopedias hold deeper explanations. My interpretation is the same as in Stanford University's "Encyclopedia of Philosophy":
        — [Empathy is] the primary means for gaining knowledge of other minds and the method uniquely suited for the human sciences.

        Mind you, the Stanford entry clarifies that various professors, even within the same research disciplines, such as psychology, has difficulty finding "agreement of how exactly one should understand empathy".

        All best,

        --
        http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/empathy/
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        May 10 2011: Nicola...

        If by »practicing« radical empathy you mean putting myself in the point of reference of a self-proclaimed monopoly-patriot, that's easy. All I have to do is have a marathon-viewing of "Independence Day", "Band of Brothers" and other films where the USA is the sole savior of the world. Add to that the sectarian 'Stockholm syndrome' adherence towards the military-industrial complex, plus an unhealthy amount of phobia towards any reality-checks - and I'm in the mood.

        I can also easily do what Sam Richards tried to explain. I can actually just remain in the above "patriot" sentiment, and ask myself: How would I feel if I was in a real-life "Independence Day" situation? With an empire striking back, foreign tanks on the streets, storm-troopers marching in and a foreign leader on TV claiming out of nowhere that: "we come in peace". My neighborhood is suddenly in flames, anyone local who complains is called a "rebel" or "dissident" in the empire's TV channels. Troopers break in doors and run in with pointed firearms, yelling in my home in a language that I have no understanding of.

        On top of that.. When hundreds of my countrymen, including children, are killed from recklessness and "friendly fire", all I get is an: "Ooppss.. At least we are the good guys. We'll send flowers to your little nephews funeral! Ps: "It's not evil when we do it - because we said so""

        There's not one American patriot who would stand for that. Even the most peaceful person in any country would have trouble stomaching such an approach and such events in their neighborhood.

        Hence, I can feel and explain either emotions. In that way I practice some form of empathy. ..

        If radical empathy to you means to start burning flags, however, then hmm.. no - my emotions have not amounted to, and reached, that level. I am, as you say, a lover.
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        May 12 2011: ...

        Nicola,

        I love dogs!
  • May 8 2011: They should clarify what "empathizing with terrorists" really means-- how it just means they understand these terrorists, but do not necessarily agree with them. I think many people have this misconception that empathy implies sympathy and compassion, which is not true.
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      May 8 2011: is Forgiveness not a compassionate act? "empathazing towards the future of our children." Who doesn't want to experience eating and drinking, and joy? etc...
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      May 8 2011: well said austin..an important point..i agee with you
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      May 8 2011: I agree completely with Austin. Those were my first thoughts and is also implied in the question: "[...] step into the shoes of..". When we witness an autopsy, a part of us cringe from watching the knife cut into flesh, even though the person is dead, and regardless of if we share or even know the person's values. Actually even despite that we may be watching a fake autopsy. That's our empathic side. Sympathy is something else.
      • May 9 2011: Ah, great analogy! Sums it up well.
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    May 13 2011: If we took the "american" like a concept, we realize that goes from Patagonia to Alaska: South America, Central America Mexico,Noth america... US, Canada, Alaska, and all caribean islands included Cuba, Haiti, etc, etc....the antiamerican could be an allien from other planet. But if we believe in the "tag",reflect carefully and honestly that almost everybody could be labeled as an antiamerican....

    You have to start by yourselves and all your fears. You have achieved the antipathy from a great amount of people just for your sense of power and domination. Historically and histerically your behavior with the "others" have done a trace of hard feelings, grudge, pain, and revenge. Please don't ask obvious things, and its better to recognize your own harvest. Where begins the terror an who started it?
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    May 13 2011: There is absolutely no way to put yourself in the shoes of an "anti-American" without some (if not a lot of) people calling you "anti-American." No matter how much you emphasize your true feelings, no matter how much you try to prove you are only doing it to study them, no matter what, there will be zealots out there who will do try their hardest to portray you as "anti-American." The most you can hope for, is that Americans will learn, be educated, smarter, and more rational when in comes to those sorts of things. Until America is rid of all the haterz (pardon my lingo), then you will never be able to be unopposed. This will never happen (not to sound pessimistic). It is human nature for some to hate others.

    Simply, do what you need to do while maintaining your position as to why you are doing what you are doing. If you truly are not "anti-American" then putting yourself in their place for the sake of knowledge, you should not worry.
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  • May 11 2011: fabulous talk and an interesting question.

    I agree with some posters here that the point of empathy is not to condone or agree with an action, but to understand it. In doing so we also understand our contribution to those actions, either on a personal, local or national/global level. I empathise with Lynn Eschbach here and understand her reluctance to understand this violent action, but we must go through this process or we risk building even more xenophobic and nationalistic barriers. I shudder to think what could be done to 'stem the tide' of this behaviour based on psychological information. That is dark territory, and you will find yourselves with fewer and fewer liberties because of it, and you will be grateful for it. I think oppression and control is at least as violent an act as terrorism, and we should all do what we can to stem this tide.

    I think Sam Richards is bang on - we are actively encouraged to think of the world as a them and us place, and this way of thinking precludes any empathy, as to disagree is to be against. Whether political or religious, we are forced into categories and as a result feel we should be protecting our 'rights' as a member of that category. But what gives me to the right to claim moral high ground based on what I think is right? Why is someone else not equally right in their thought and action? Of course I am not saying that I agree with some of these acts, but why don't I agree? What is it that has prompted that action, and if I were subjected to the same provocation, would I behave the same way?

    We should all be concentrating not on the things that make us different, but the things that make us the same. Empathy can bring awareness of ourselves as much as awareness of others, and if we all practiced more of it, we would be better for it.
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      May 11 2011: wonderful y clear,centering, and insightful comment..thank you so much..I especially like your observation:we are actively encouraged to think of the world as a them and us place, and this way of thinking precludes any empathy
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      May 12 2011: I agree with your last comment here -- that we should be focusing on our similarities. And I guess ironically this is exactly what I did in the talk. It's just that it's uncomfortable for us to imagine that we think that THEY are terrorists and they think that WE are terrorists. We're all pointing fingers -- one at someone else and three back at our own person.

      But yes, if we all just reached across the differences, then we'd clearly find that we're mostly the same most of the time most everywhere in the world. Hmm....
  • May 9 2011: I'm sorry that you took a beating for what I thought was a brilliant talk. But it shouldn't be unexpected.

    There is a brand of "patriotism" that equates to "my country right or wrong." It is a shallow, narrow, brittle, xenophobic brand of patriotism. It is probably related to tribal loyalties, which is related to kin loyalty, which is doubtless at least partly-biological, part of our hard-wiring. This kind of patriot cannot consider empathy for the enemy -- that is the same as betrayal. To such a patriot, your talk was vilest possible anti-Americanism.

    Anyone who becomes more "cosmopolitan" -- literally, more a citizen of the cosmos -- can consider empathy for a larger group of people. But they are no longer patriots in the narrower definition, regardless of how they think of themselves. They are at best "soft-minded backsliders," at worst, "fifth-column traitors." Each extension into the cosmos that an individual achieves brands them a traitor to their old group.

    I think the hardest empathy of all is empathy for the person you, yourself used to be in your own past -- that violently xenophobic patriot who would look at your own current beliefs and brand you a traitor. That's where I struggle -- to find empathy for that close-minded person who hates me -- truly hates me -- because I outgrew his tiny world-view. I certainly understand that person -- I was that person at some point in the past. Indeed, the more violently "patriotic" I was as a child, the more loyal I was to a group or sect or belief, the more embarrassed I am as an adult over that behavior, and the harder it is to find empathy for those who have yet to outgrow those limits.
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      May 9 2011: How beautiful and how wise and how true. What you are pointing to is the interior terrain, the terrain within us, that keeps us from radical empathy..from even plain vanilla empathy..it plays out here on my tiny little island in such a painful, and I am beginning to think immutable way, every day between the "from away " people..and the island people, between the peace and justice people and the veterans. It has always mystified me that the Peace and Justice peoole,( an identifiable group who hold a peace vigil every monday at 4 near the market where there will be the most traffic) with all their fine educations, their cosmopolitan and intellectually rich present lives don't seem to be able to allow for the possibiity that veterans, whose group identity is the little harborside VFW hal,l are not pro war. Over the winter we had a reading of a play, 10,000 Cranes(sorry may not be the exactly correct title), by a young japanese girl dying of radiation from the Hiroshima bomb. It was performed by our island children. I was so excited and hopeful but it all broke down into weeks and weeks of hateful letters in our little paper because the program contained a message from the Peace & Justice people. I just read your words to a friend here who grieves as I do and we both want them to be heard by all the island peace and justice people. In many modern and ancient teachings about compassion and inner peace we are told that the things we react to automatically , emotionally, intensely are clues to what is still broken in us.. Your insight is a TED conversation in it itself..I could stop everything and spend a whole week just on your last paragraph. IWe the enlightened can redily engage in a distant radical empathy but at home in our communities...not so much....
      • May 10 2011: A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country....
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          May 10 2011: your insight on the shadow side of cosmopolitan liberalism opens so many doors of understanding for me..thank you again..
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        May 9 2011: FYI I always read the whole conversation..every comment before commenting..the example I used is universal..translates to everywhere..but I speak from my own experience. You are responding to this conversation, to all of us in it..from a place of extreme bias.. a sort of black box from which no light can shine and into which no light can enter.. try standing in a different place..maybe you will see this conversation and what we are trying to do here very differently. Right now you are just having a temper tantrum,..screaming..throwing stones, acting ..you aren't communicating.
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          May 10 2011: Joseph, I am actually very sorry that Nichola has left us.and hope he/she is still looking in. I think the shadow side of cosmopolitan liberalism is fed by clustering..it becomes its own culture its own ideology almost cult like.You used the word "brittle:..a key observation, I think. We need folk like Nichola whose strong reactions are almost a warning bell. It's possible Nichola's tantrums and railing were an intentional provocation ..a water baloon dropped into gathering of cosmopolitan liberalism from his/her point of view. . In a comment today, addressed to Sam, Andrea shares the story of Harry Boyte. I hope one day to master Harry Boyte's skill and I hope one day to be better at unpacking the truths that are often underneath the kind of anger Nichola brought to this conversation. .Nichola..peace & blessings. Would love to know though if you were intetionally provoking us or your other conversation on "radical empathy" just literally drove you up a wall?.
  • May 8 2011: Do you think there is a systematic way to teach empathy to people? And would it help reduce the xenophobia that is prevalent in us? How much of a role does religion play in spreading this herd-feelings and xenophobia?
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      May 8 2011: Isn't Sam trying to do just that with us here now? aren't all of us at these conversations emataing from his Ted Talk doing that?But f you are suggesting how do we do that from the strat..even from Head sart ( american pre-school)..yes we should teach that to our children..by example in everything we do and say, in the way we answer their questions or engage them in dialog when they exhinit one of those "my group is better than yours" behaviors which they will encounter, guaranteed, first day of school.. We don't have to wait for someone to come up with a curriculum. Practicing radical empathy means doing it right now..each of us..all the time in all things..how we read the news, what we say to our chums even when we are in circles where we know all agree and have strong group cohesion in beliefs, preferences etc. And I hope we will practice that in every single TED Conversation here at TED..we all need the practice and right at thi smment we have our teacher right here with us.
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      May 12 2011: Learn languages of others. That's the best way because it makes us laugh when we try to say words that don't make sense. And it makes us see something special in the inner mind of the other.
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        May 12 2011: Sam, I concur.

        I recognize some 25 languages and can »greet« natives fluently in about 17, including Ukranian, Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Japanese and Hebrew. I read Persian (like a 5th grader) and can get by in Croatian, Spanish and French. I could teach college-level Swedish and English.

        Lessons learned:

        1. It's a daily humbling experience to become a "child" all over again.

        2. I've also realized that there seems to be more truth to the 'Tower of Babel' than people think. Many languages have exactly the same word as in another languge, but with reversed meaning. Often the syntax, the way of building a sentence structure, is also "flipped".

        3. People truly appreciate the effort.
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    May 8 2011: You've got a great point. While we keep discussing large groups of people and attributing the same characteristics to them all, there'll be no real engaging dialogue.

    We have to stop aligning ourselves with some 'team' because we perceive them to be aligned with some part of our identity.
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      May 8 2011: Scott. that's it..well said..and with clarity and brevity..that's it
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      May 8 2011: This time Scot you helped me understand your end game and I like what I see.
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      May 8 2011: re; his tactics cannot be excused at all.. well of course in my version of "radical" empathy there are clear lines in the sand beyond which empathy and tolerance do not come intoplay..transgression sof universal values, transgressions which threaten all of humanity. of course..for me at least I could not accpt a vision of radical empathy tbat did not draw such lines in the sand..perscribed such limits of empathy.
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          May 9 2011: sam did? where? I think I have not heard him speak specifically to that. In any event..I am with you on that and actually Sam did say quite clearly in mnay places that radical empathy is not the same as, and does not necessarily include, condoning, approving, agreeing or even forgiving. I have drawn the same line you have apparently ( imagine that..mirrors ccome in many ways). I am interested in what Sam has to say about that for my own personal use of this practice, that line in the sand is there. And I cannot disagree with with you that what we know of Radical Empathy from the TED Talk and all these conversations leaves a lot of gap and questions as to what he is really asserting/advocating. Most of us here in these many different TED conversations that have spun off Sam's Ted Talk have been exploring it on our own amongst ourselves.
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          May 10 2011: I guess I would say that I'm first and foremost a teacher and a "teacher," in the most radical sense of the world doesn't tell people what to think but, rather, shows people what he or she is thinking and invites those people to look over his or her shoulder. If I second guessed the consequences of my profession, then I'd never open my mouth.

          So for example, when I discuss the sociology of suicide, which I do for two weeks in my intro class, I actually make what I believe is an excellent argument for NOT committing suicide simply by looking at the underlying factors and forces that make it more or less likely that someone will take his or her own life. But it would be extremely easy to take the very same ideas and hear them as a reason TO commit suicide and each semester I am aware of that paradox. Do I not discuss suicide just by talking about it might increase someone's inclination to do it?

          The essential difference between us, Nichola, is that I am willing to step into the shoes of Arab Muslims living in Iraq and what I hear/see/envision is what I put into the talk. So I'm simply giving them a voice -- including the more than 100,000 innocent civilians who have lost their lives. So I should remain silent because...why? Because I'm an American? But in truth I'm a human being also and so I also have an obligation to speak on behalf of humanity.

          After the celebrations that occurred all over the U.S. when OBL died many people asked me whether I thought that it was terrible to celebrate death in such a way. I responded that it was clear that the person asking me the question had not put him or herself into the shoes of the celebrants because clearly OBL had touched a nerve here in the U.S. and people felt a need to respond as they did. Such an act of empathy--putting oneself in the shoes of someone waving the flag and singing God Bless America in front of the White House that Sunday night--could clearly be radical.

          It all cuts both ways.
        • May 10 2011: "I responded that it was clear that the person asking me the question had not put him or herself into the shoes of the celebrants because clearly OBL had touched a nerve here in the U.S. and people felt a need to respond as they did."

          That is my favorite sentence in this whole conversation thus far. I'm tired of my friends only condemning the celebrants and not even trying to empathize. Sam, you earned a world of respect in my book.
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      May 9 2011: And yet Nichola, you expect us to ignore or never to question or excuse the tactics of the war machine.

      Why is it wrong to look into the antecedent causes, the prime movers, the first offenders?Is it just too painful?

      Nichola, why do you hide your identity?
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          May 9 2011: Nichola, I am not being disingenuous. I am surmizing that you have something really important that you are defending or trying to share.
          And you are doing it from a very isolated place where you are feelilng pretty overwhelmed and this seems to be the last straw when your country is being condemned even from friends and from within.
          You have swung from hostile defense, to an excellent and unrewarded attempt to find common ground and back to hostility and now to ridicule.

          I find you can be not only reasonable but intelligent and invested.

          Come back and reason with me, please.
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          May 9 2011: Nick this is just raving...raving is not what we all look for or hope to find here at TED..if you want to just rant..do it in a different venue.
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          May 10 2011: "I Am the Walrus" ' "No you're not!" said Little Nicola' (in the film, Nicola is a little girl who keeps contradicting everything the other characters say)." was that all there was..just pestering us with your contradictions like Nicola in the film?
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          May 9 2011: Let's not be surreal then but plainspoken.

          You hide behind total anonymity and the times that you post do not make sense if you are 'in China'. Did you transport your whole network there?

          You did not give anyone the chance to show they were not 'anti-American' you just didn't get what you wanted out of him. You asked for him to tell you how to defend your place in the world when people tarred you with their impression of your country which is a common experience overseas. (I am sure it is because the nation has been such an ideal global citizen). He did not give you an answer you felt you could use to defeat your 'enemies'.
          Therein lies the problem- you see a lot of enemies.
          Sam and everyone else included.

          From your name, I cannot even tell your gender and you howl about the integrity or the quality of the responses you recieve? I suggest that you step up and declare yourself and stand for something with your own face and your own thought rather than hiding behind a sniping style of sarcasm.
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    May 11 2011: Someone must have said this before in all the conversations we've had here at TED on this but just in the hope it might make things clearer "radical empathy" which is a practice Sam is advocating or inviting us to consider, includes but is not limited to how else we might view terrorits. It is unfortunate, I think that the example used in the TED talk was so provocative and controversial and that th bheadr here which was supposed to clarify is so divisive. After hanging in there quite a while I think I have decided that we need to explore radical empathy in application to less volatile and divisive examples. On the whole, I'd say, having invested quite a bit of time and thougt here, it was not a good choice to use such volatile examples if the point was to get folk to consider and talk about radical empathy.
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    May 10 2011: This whole issue confuses me . . . why don't we empathize with mass murderers then? Like Ted Bundy? Why would I want to empathize with a terrorist? They are sick and need to be studied by psychologists, experts in the field of mental ilness to figure out what makes them tick. Then, use this information to stem the tide of this obscene behavior.
    • May 10 2011: I think this is an excellent question. My thoughts:

      Empathy is one of the main tools psychologists use to figure out what makes people tick. If you're going to be a psychologist, you need to learn to use that tool. If you aren't a psychologist -- or a sociologist -- is there any point to empathizing with "the enemy?" I think that's precisely Sam's question above. And yours.

      A psychopath like Bundy appears to be born that way, and no one knows how to prevent or cure the disease.

      However, I think the point of Sam's exercise is to illustrate that a "terrorist" is not necessarily anything more than a perfectly ordinary person pushed to extreme behavior by intolerable injustice. The way you "cure" this disease is to remove the injustice.

      Sam's exercise also points out that much of that injustice results from American imperialism, which we call "foreign policy." Foreign policy is, in fact, something pursued by our leadership, not the ordinary citizens, and largely without the knowledge or consent of the citizens. Read Noam Chomsky for a blistering indictment of American foreign policy -- he's certainly biased, but it's an appalling eye-opener.

      So, to the extent that our leadership is accountable to We the People -- a premise I personally find shaky -- it is a good thing for We the People to exercise enough empathy to recognize terrorism as a completely normal reaction to the extreme injustice caused by our leaders' foreign policy. So that we will call our leaders accountable for their foreign policy they pursue in our name, stop the injustice, and thereby stop the terrorism.

      Does that make more sense? And Sam, is that a fair assessment of your exercise?
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        May 10 2011: wow..really well said..very helpful for me thank you..especially for your observation:

        a "terrorist" is not necessarily anything more than a perfectly ordinary person pushed to extreme behavior by intolerable injustice
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          May 11 2011: I agree, other factors are involved too. First, dark organizations which they claim they are "God's Warriors". Second, the fundamentalists of three major religions "Christianity, Judaism and Islam". Third, the rising prices of food (i.e The French Revolution) which is creating a massive gap in between the civil societies.
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        May 10 2011: "a "terrorist" is not necessarily anything more than a perfectly ordinary person pushed to extreme behavior by intolerable injustice" . . . I don't buy that for one moment. Killing innocent cilvilians at random is sick, disgusting, and not worth anyone's empathy.

        There's so much talk againt waterboarding, and yet we are supposed to be empathetic to terrorists? Still don't get that logic.We're not supposed to waterboard because there are more humane ways of doing things. Why aren't we applying that same logic to these terrorists??
        • May 10 2011: I don't think the point of empathy is to agree with the action. The point is to understand how it came about. If "terrorists" are simply another kind of psychopath that occurs randomly and we don't know how to cure, then you are correct. If "terrorists" are made, however, then it's certainly worth looking at the process that creates them. If that process is something WE are doing, so much the better -- it means we have the ability to actually STOP making terrorists. Whether we have the will to do so is another question.
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          May 10 2011: This is a great summation of what I believe the point of empathy should be. Thanks Joseph for this clear statement. I certainly want the terrorism to stop and what ever we can do to work toward that end is worthwhile.
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          May 11 2011: I agree. Some comments here are getting perilously close to giving empathy a bad name! The point, in my opinion, is not to employ empathy at all costs, but to do so with discretion.
        • May 11 2011: Is the bombing of Libya, the actions in Iraq and Afghanistan etc etc not killing innocent civilians at random? Or does the cause justify it? You don't really see the effects of these actions, but if you lived in Iraq or Libya you would,

          Detonating a bomb in a subway car and dropping one from a plane seem much the same to me. Life is either worth something or it's not. Some life is not more valuable than others, and to think so is to miss the point of it.
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          May 11 2011: Hi Stephen, I am going to try to tackle your statements and rebutt them with good will.

          If for some unfortunate reason, people in the streets of Los Angeles or DeMoines started bombing the heck out of the place and killing civilians- which country or countries would you want to come in with their own agenda and blow up a few thousand more of your citizens?

          I am not saying that there is never a time to intervene, in fact the UN has declared that every country has the responsibility to care for its citizens or it becomes the global community's responsiblity too. I am saying that it has become a practice and appears to be considered a right that certain countries take upon themselves and much of the world is worried about their motivation and their profit margins on the actions.
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          May 11 2011: Jafia..glad to have your voice here..Was it Tom Stoppards plays in the 80's that had a very disquieting theme exactly on this premise that people who seem to have perfectly ordinary, tranquil, well adjusted lives can be brought to a breaking point that includes the capacity for violence. I don't know if I accept that premise myself but it is a premise that is out there in many ways and much discussed.I'm also not sure that imagining ouselves as possibly capable of such acts would be included in any version of radical empathy I might adopt for my own personal practice..We are all here just exploring whether we end up in a place that sees and understands more if we can catch ourselves not having automatic and programmed responses to things. To me radical empathy is just one of many ideas that access that transcendant placee and is useful only in that it houses the idea of empathy in the context of cultural and ideological frameowrks which govern us all invisibly.
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          May 11 2011: Hi Jafia,

          i spent a lot of time studying psychopaths and their attributes when I was working as an undergraduate and graduate student studying the primary reactions of the brain (gut reactions and subconcious).

          If you are interested in learning more about these people and where they are most likely to be the following website is very educational. It is the site of the formost authority in the subject Robert Hare - the originator of the universally used Hare Psychopathic Checklist.

          http://www.hare.org/

          To call people of other nations psychopaths is an easy way of dimissing anything they might say- a sort of propaganda- not that i do not agree that some terrorist are psychopaths- especially the ones who train and send out young people to blow up themselves and others- but I really think that it is easier to dismiss someone once you have labelled them 'crazy' or 'inhuman'.
    • May 10 2011: There's also the closer-to-home issue. Personally, I feel Republicans, conservatives, and fundamentalist Christians are all sick and need to be studied by psychologists to figure out what makes them tick, so they can use this information to stem this tide of obscene behavior.

      I'm empathetic enough to recognize this as a ridiculous premise, and more a reflection on me than these people I've just named. But I still feel that way.

      So I go out of my way to try to empathize with these "others," not because it does them a whit of good, but because it does ME good. If this makes me a bit more civil toward these "others" in the process, then everyone wins.
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        May 10 2011: Joseph I think what you are saying here is very closely connecetd to what Jafia's sharing of the Milgram experiments (above..or below..I don't understand these threads) brought me to.I don't know what to name it..but the popularity of some of these things. you point to is a manifestation of the same thing that fostered the poularity of eugenics. And did you notice? In Canada and in the U.S. people spouting these crazy things didn't deter any one..In both of the world's great democracies..that actually lead to a conservative majority. It' like a "mind-plague" a "spirit-plague" Maybe the example employed to explain radical empathy and the deep disconnect with the idea itself are also variations on the same theme.
        • May 11 2011: (Off-topic meta-comment): The thread order threw me, too. There's a box near the top that controls the order, and it seems to default to "threads recently updated". So by commenting on this thread, I push it all the way to the top of the list. There's another options called "original thread sequence", which presumably keeps things in the same order every time.
      • May 11 2011: Howdy there Joseph,

        I think socialist progressives are delusional. Let's study them too.
        Now, does that sound open-minded of me? No, of course not. I'm not going to judge those who disagree with me as ignorant and incompetent, and neither should you. I used to be a fundamentalist, I understand their perspective-- they are not sick.

        (I don't like having my friends and family called psychology "sick")
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          May 11 2011: Glad you spoke up Austin ..I can only speak to my own comments and I regret that in my own comments I did not separate myself from the statement that fundamentalists are sick. My comment is addressed to straight out falsehoods and utter nonsense spoken by an extreme wing of the conservative party and my astonishment that that seems to have attracted rather than deterrred votes. I was not agreeing with the staement that fundamentalist christians are sick nor do I think statement sof that kind belong in TED.. I join you in objecting to that statement. I am sure though, that you are awate some of these politicians, who intentionally brand themselves as fundamentalists, are giving fundamentalists are bad name.
        • May 11 2011: Austin -- precisely my point. The knee-jerk reaction that anyone is "sick" is just that -- a knee-jerk reaction. Or, as I put it, a ridiculous premise.

          It is empathy that gets us past knee-jerk reactions. Empathy distinguishes us from lizards who eat anything edible in front of them, including their own young.

          So where do we draw the line on empathy? Should we extend it to fundamentalist Christians, but not to fundamentalist Muslims? Should we extend it to ordinary individuals who endured horrific childhoods at the hands of very bad parents, but not to ordinary individuals who endured carpet-bombings and raids by foreign soldiers? Should we extend it to Americans under all circumstances, and to Communists or Palestinians under no circumstances?

          I think Sam's whole point is to expand the sphere of empathy. As soon as anyone does that, they suddenly see things they never saw before. It's like visiting a whole new world.

          And, for the record, I was also once a fundamentalist Christian, and am still surrounded by them, in my circle of family and friends. I seldom act out my knee-jerk reactions.

          Lindsay: statements need to be read in context. Please re-read my original comment in its full context. I called it a "ridiculous premise." It is not inappropriate on TED or anywhere else to state a ridiculous premise for the purpose of illustrating that it is a ridiculous premise.
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        May 11 2011: I'm still thrown by the thread thing Jospeh ..I am responding to "There's also the cloe to home issue" and it scomplete context..I always re read the entire context. ( This thread thing is confusing though and i ofetn see my comments hanging soace as non sequitors..I don't get it.
        • May 11 2011: So you got the part where I said "I feel that XXX" and that "This [XXX] is a ridiculous premise" and that "This [XXX] reflects more on me than on these others..." -- by which I meant (but it was implied, not stated) that "This [XXX] reflects NEGATIVELY more on me than on these others..."
        • May 11 2011: Ok, fair enough Joseph. I'm sorry I overreacted.
        • May 11 2011: No prob.
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      May 11 2011: Hi Lynn i think what sam suggested is more solution-oriented.i understand that it sounds unreasonable and unfair to empathise anyone who kills innocent civilians. and i also think why we empathise? not because we want to find excuses for cruelty behaviors but to listen and understand so that there might be chances for both (or many ) "sides" to dialogue.

      and what things would be like if we dont empathise?we stop listening ,we create myths and stereotype people which are the behaviors reinforce the cruelty. in longterm it is not helpful . so i appreciate what Sam is trying to say here.

      and i think empathy is helpful for both(many) sides not only" anti-terrerists" but also "terrorists"need to empathise the other.

      here's a link that says scientists try to define cruety with empathy.
      http://www.jpost.com/Sci-Tech/Article.aspx?id=219585
    • May 11 2011: Lynn, I think to label all terrorists as mental ill is not only wrong, but it allows people to dismiss any cause associated with them, which only extends the problem. A 'terrorist' is created through their situation and view of the world.

      The references here to the Milgram experiment can be a starting point for the links from a normal person to someone ready to contemplate mass murder. In those experiments normal people knowingly inflicted pain on innocent people due to a short bout of psychological pressure and a particular situation. Keep that pressure up and the acts carried out become worse, such as the Stanford prison experiment. Keep on going and normally good people commit unthinkable acts.

      With empathy we can truly see what causes someone to want to attack us and tackle the root causes. Cutting of the fuel to the fire is a far more successful than just beating back the flames.

      Here in the UK we've had a long history of terrorism but the level of action is now lower than is was before the Northern Ireland peace agreements. How was that achieved? Brute force failed and there are no mental institutions studying the problem. However understanding of what drove both sides of the conflict led us to build an agreement. Now many of those 'sick' terrorists find their voices heard not through bombs and bullets, but at the ballot boxes as politicians.
      • May 11 2011: Lindsay,
        Ok, thank you for clarifying. And, yes, I'm aware of the politicians who are giving fundamentalists a bad reputation.
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        May 13 2011: So, the fact that the terrorist got on a bus and blew up children on the way to school is O.K. since it starts a movement to understanding a wider problem.

        Still don't get it. Sorry.
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          May 13 2011: Hi Lynn, I think it is very valid to be worried about the kids on the bus.

          No one is saying any terrorism is OK. What we are saying is that we can either just accept it as a fact of life in this world or we can work to get inside the heads of people who think this way. It does not mean that we condone their actions but it does mean that we have to find out why they make the decisions they do. That means that we try to see through their eyes and try to understand what led them to decisions we cannot now 'get' (not condone).

          When we do that we begin to see what shaped them SO WE CAN STOP THIS PROCESS OF MAKIING MORE TERRORISTS - not just to be liberal and/or anti-Amercan.If you get to realize that starving and beating a dog and giving it a cruel master turns it into a vicious beast- you learn what to do to ensure you don't allow more to be turned into vicious beasts. Maybe all we will learn is that they are genetically bred to be beasts but that is unlikely.

          I hope I have expressed my thoughts in a way to find common ground because I think what you are trying to protect is worthwhile too.
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      May 12 2011: I think that Joseph does a nice job of laying out what would be my response. And I think I was pretty clear in the talk that we could easily be viewed as "terrorists" from another vantage point.

      Here's one for you. In the initial bombing in this war the Pentagon had to make decisions about how many Iraqi civilians could die in order to kill one critical target (i.e., Iraqi bad guy). They came up with 29 as the number. So if they determined that 30 Iraqi civilians would die to kill their person, then the bombing/killing/raid was called off. But 29...well then, that was another matter. I'm not even saying if that's good or bad, right or wrong. You decide or let God decide.

      But go to the example of the Chinese and imagine that the Coal Wars happened in the United States and so on and that THEY (the Chinese) used a 1:29 ratio. Who would the terrorists be in that case? The Chinese or the Americans who were fighting back by planting bombs to motivate the Chinese invaders to return home?
  • May 8 2011: I am commenting from the UK. However, I think that the question you pose is one that can be applied within any group and so I will venture to give my perspectives on the matter. I think this will be a long answer, so will post it in 3 sections (cheating, I know)

    Firstly – THANK YOU SAM for posting this question. I think it is a great question and touches on a fundamental issue in life – that of conflict between groups. The issue can apply in a religious setting, between races / nations, industrial disputes or indeed any situation where people may be tempted to view it from a “you’re either with us or against us” attitude.

    A personal story. Way back in 1982 I was a young sailor in the Royal Navy when the Argentineans decided to invade the Falkland Islands. The merits or otherwise are not relevant for now. (As it happens, probably 90% of the British population had NO IDEA where the Falklands were and, if they were to hazard a guess, they would have suggested somewhere near Scotland….) Nevertheless, there was a national fervour and determination to oust the invaders and defend “our land” (crazy, given that it is next door to Argentina. A number of ships, maybe 20 or so, were dispatched to begin the engagement. As time wore on, the appetite for conflict with the Argentineans was palpable. I felt that I had a more balanced view of war, having spoken to many pensioners and was aware of its gruesome nature – a long way away from the glorified images on TV and in films. I stood alone in conversations about the prospect of engaging them. (We were in dry dock at the time and due to be sent as part of the second wave. As it was, by the time we went down, it was all over).
  • May 8 2011: (PART THREE).

    I believe that what is most important in all of these areas is our DESIRE to understand. Whether we choose to defend and protect the current truths we hold, or seek out opportunities to upgrade those truths. It is harder to do the latter, as many of our truths are part and parcel of our personal identity. Actively seeking out information that could lead to their unravelling is like asking for trouble, it is a brave person that does this (although I would say that it is also a richer person in the end). In the potentially emotional and contentious conversations that I have had with people over time, I have sought to upgrade the truths I hold. It is a journey and I just love the quote attributed to the French writer Andre Gide on his death bed in 1951: “Believe those who are seeking truth, doubt those who find it” (Source: Simpsons contemporary quotations 1998).

    Express to others that truth is not a national possession and pursuing it need not threaten those who seek progress. Vengeance is one thing and, if that’s what they want, then they can be prejudiced and blind to the possibility that we might be wrong. It is also worth noting that, even if not directly applicable, the major factor cited in the US Declaration of Independence was the British King’s unwillingness to listen to the grievances of the colonies. At that point in time, at least, Americans felt it very appropriate that people should seek to understand the opinion of others. On that basis, I would say that trying to understand the world view of others is VERY American, and certainly not anti-American.
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      May 8 2011: wonderful Mick..perfect and really helps us approach the whole idea of "radical empathy" in a very practical way.
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    May 8 2011: Are we in bondage not meeting our full potentials in this life? Can we expand? Should we keep our children on this accelerated path of destruction? Lets accept that we aren't and we should reach New technological levels of communication, so our children may prosper and have true joy.
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      May 8 2011: thank you.Ed, yes radical empathy is not so radical..many roots in ancient wisdoms and wisdom traditions
  • May 8 2011: A comment from Europe. Unfortunately I can not answer your questions but I can give you some thoughts.

    Patriotism can have two sides. The side you are on and the "other side", you probably have a difference of opinion, but both sides consider themselves patriots. One of my French friends terms this "other side of the fence patriotism".

    If you are a patriot to your own cause, and that means taking a stance that means that you are considered "anti-american" it is basically not different. Both sides believe strongly in something.

    The interesting and at the same time worrying thing about this is, that people often have the same sentiments but a different point of view. This can lead to bitter arguments and all sorts of other undesirable behaviour.
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      May 8 2011: I've observed this too, Jan-Herman: in all conflicts, even simple quarrels between friends or spouses, the feelings are always mutual.
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    May 14 2011: Sam, this is a beautiful talk with an amazing message. Thank you.
    I see no trace of anti-americanism. I have no idea how you could reach to all those who label you as such, maybe finding out what it is exactly they are reacting to because, in my opinion, they a clearly missing the point.
  • May 14 2011: Mr. Richards. Until there is a mutually accepted definition of what you mean by empathy, one that does not include forgivness or acceptance, or even tolerance, I suspect the answer to your question is probably not. Untill it is understood by Ameicans that criticism of public policy does not make one anti-American I suspect not. I think your radical experiment in empathy was great.
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    May 13 2011: I guess, only an American, Russian or Australian can create such a thread/discussion. Because it's a large comunity, large prosperty, huge land for freedom, etc...


    If you enable me to take a breath(to take a bite from my land's own resources like my culture, my history, my natural resources), I could join you as a citizen of United Republics of Euroasia = ]

    What's wrong with America? Nothing. I guess what America do now is (you know in the timeline one go to the top, when it feel the capableness, it want the top/superpower lifetime period to be extended ) to extend the being superpower period of time. There are calculations. There should be analyzes which shows the reality on its own which Ottomans faced with beforeward them.

    Creating terrorist leaders, capturing leaders, resulting to the death of some USA or non-USA citizens, killing those terrorist leaders, making yellow journalism, etc... is open to discussion.

    What I think is that "Yaratılanı severiz, yaratandan ötürü." which is a saying of Mevlana. The conclusion is that; yesterday or today or tomorrow. Time and superpowers always open to change. There is no need to result to some enmity or terror or yellow journalism or discomfort any people from any nation/belief..
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    TED

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    May 12 2011: We have removed several comments from this thread of the Conversation for being off-topic. While we welcome differing opinions, we ask you to engage in respectful discussions and refrain from posting off-topic comments.

    Thank You,

    TED Conversations Admin
    conversations@ted.com
  • May 12 2011: You could argue that John P. O'Neill of the FBI did just that and was seen as anything but anti-American.
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    May 11 2011: "People are not evil; they are schlemiels." --Abe Maslow
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    May 11 2011: Well, This is the dilemma of my country. Where people are suffering from so many tragedies like terrorist attacks, high inflation, corrupt politicians etc. And my country is also a key ally to America in the war against terrorism. Here most of the govt institutions are funded by America and also those who are phony patriots (anti-America Islamic organizations). So does the Media and it is still anti-America.
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      May 10 2011: Jafia,Fascinating..I'll have to ponder a bit what I take from it. From the moment I first learned of the holocaust I had the same question..how could this have happened didn't other countries know..didn't the U/S. know why didn't anyone stop it..why wasnt it more in the headlines? But my heart/.mind never took me to any hypothesis about obedience. ( In fact way deep down I have an intuitive resistence to his hypothesis that Germans as a people are more obedient) .What I did learn many many years after I first started to ask "how could that happen?" was that not only Germany but much of the world was caught up in eugenics. Hitler was in power for quite a while before the holocaust..before any of these acts..he was wildly popular and there was not much objection or concern about him from any quarters of the world. Perhaps the question of how so many in the world could have been besotted by eugenics is an important one..what makes us take up such notions..notions that violate the basic dignity of humans, notions that violate human decency. ( and here I am refrring to eugenics..not the holocaust itself) I think it is not even vaguely related to obedience and it never would have ocurred to me to frame such a hypothesis...I think it may be very closely related to the many memes fostered on the internet,spreading like mind viruses through the internet..repeated like truth.. I can't name that thing but the suceptibility to it even amongst smart well educated people gives pause.I think whatever it is is very closely related to the extreme reaction even TED has had to the example Sam Richards chose to explain his concept of "radical empathy",
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    May 9 2011: You can't. :-D The best you can do is try to be clear enough that the labeling doesn't migrate up the food chain very far.
  • May 9 2011: I have a friend who considers herself neo-Pagan Wiccan, and she once railed against a shopkeeper during Christmas season for playing all those "Christian" songs that glorified the people who burned HER people at the stake during the Catholic Inquisitions. Her rage over the matter was palpable.

    A few facts for those of you who aren't familiar with history.

    1. The "witch-craze" in Europe was most prevalent in places where Catholic/Protestant tensions were high.
    2. Many, if not most, of the accusations of witchcraft resulted in seizure of property; in retrospect, this seems a likely motivation for these accusations, not the beliefs or behaviors of the accused.
    3. Virtually all of the accused were Christian, except in Spain where Muslims and Jews were included.
    4. Virtually all claims of "apostolic descent" from any Medieval or Renaissance magical traditions to the modern day are hearsay, and are usually demonstrably false.

    So we have an imaginary pogrom against a probably non-existent group of people (the Roman Catholic Inquisition against the Hedge Witches of Europe), which has only an imaginary lineage into the present day. Yet the sense of identification with an imaginary history is so strong that this woman would take strong issue with Christmas Carols.

    Part of her identity as a Witch is tied up with non-empathy toward Christians. She cannot be a "good Witch" and exercise empathy. Those are mutually-exclusive concepts.

    This does not mean she could not broaden her definition of "witch." But if she does, she will become "anti-Witch" from her own current perspective. A heretic. An apostate. A traitor to her people.
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      May 9 2011: Hi Joseph..nice to see you here. Not as far from the ordinary deep divides that we get snared in every day..easy for us to see it in someone extreme and outside the norm like your wiccan freind, but the problem is our inability to see it within the norm..within our own circle of identity and its very "imbeddedness" in our personal fabric is what has brought this huge backlash against anyone even suggesting we should practice radical empathy with "bad people". Thank you Jospeh.
      • May 10 2011: Thanks, Lindsay. That's exactly what Sam was trying to do: reframe the tired argument.

        I'm very surprised that Sam was surprised over the flak he got. I'm not a sociologist -- the closest I've ever come was a summer course 'way back when I was a college boy, and while I remember the name Emile Durkheim and the term "anomie," I couldn't tell you the relevance of either. But certainly group identity is a big component of the invisible forces that drive individuals, and even a cursory look at groups throughout history shows that they don't need a leg to stand on in terms of factual, historical, or intellectual rigor. Remember the old Star Trek episode about the two warring worlds where one was black on the left side and white on the other, while the other was reversed? Or Dr. Seuss's story about Sneetches? These metaphors are part of popular culture -- 1960's television, for God's sake! You don't need to be a sociologist to see that people are more than willing to kill each other over really stupid ideas.

        Those ideas just never look stupid when you identify with them.
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          May 10 2011: Joseph..were you up all night????I am doing the same as you .a few hours later .going over this whole conversation and I see you have added a lot. I admire not only what you say but that that you are engaged ..so many drop by,leave a comment or quip and buzz off..I consuder what we are doing here good work..not just entertainment.

          The black and white of children's stories carries over into adult life. Cosmopilitan Liberalism doesn't recognize itself as a limiting and limited iedology and those who think they are on the side of righteousness are even less able to hear and see sometimes.
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          May 12 2011: I wasn't totally surprised, mind you, but I guess I don't really spend a lot of time around people who are anti-American...nor do I spend much time are super patriots and so I'm always expecting a middle of the road response to things -- thought out but not freaked out.
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    May 8 2011: Sometimes though Sam, it is the artists who break through our entrenched schemas.

    This poem, sung by Jim Croce, captures an era of colonialism like an insect in amber. The thinking of a colonial era is captured in it, the prejudices clear for all to see. The 'better man ' Gunga Din, ill treated and yet loyal unto death must still burn in hell for being born the wrong colour and in the wrong religion.

    I am so grateful to live in a more enlightened time. Even so, we need to remember how recently this was a popular and perfectly accepted peice of literature viewed with an uncritical eye. I wonder if Rudyard Kipling knowingly assailed the fortresses of his time by holding up a mirror?

    http://youtu.be/J2gayTFiOUQ


    Here is an example of Walt Whitman's efforts to humanize people.

    I Sit and Look Out



    I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all oppression and shame;
    I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with themselves, remorseful after deeds done;
    I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying, neglected, gaunt, desperate;
    I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer of young women;
    I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be hid—I see these sights on the earth; 5
    I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and prisoners;
    I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who shall be kill’d, to preserve the lives of the rest;
    I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
    All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look out upon,
    See, hear, and am silent.

    You are in good company Sam Richards.
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      May 8 2011: Debra..wonderfully rich expressive phrase


      "captures an era of colonialism like an insect in amber"
  • May 8 2011: (PART TWO).

    What astounded me, and still does, was my reaction to the news that the Royal Navy had had its first loss - HMS Sheffield had been hit and sunk by an Exocet missile. http://www.thenewscentre.co.uk/falklands/shiny.htm In all honesty, at that moment in time, the emotions that the news stirred in me were such that I would have happily agreed to a nuclear strike against mainland Argentina. It was incredible (and crazy) that even though I viewed myself as being peace loving, rational and (generally speaking) against war due to the waste that is involved, could ever have reacted in that way. Honestly, that WAS my reaction. I no longer saw Argentineans as human or worthy. They had killed “one of us” and my emotions needed no mercy to be shown. I was a closed minded at that point as everybody else, and was actually appalled at myself. I could barely believe what was going on in my mind. I had NO DESIRE to understand the merits or otherwise of the Argentineans’ position.

    In recent years, although unconnected with the above event, I have looked long and hard at what I believe leads to demarcation between people. In the first instance, it is certainly our perceived membership of a particular group. Group membership takes many forms and is hugely complex. We are members of a large number of groups that influence how we listen (or not) to others, as well as inform our world view. For example, I would find it OK to listen to one of my brothers be critical of one of my fellow brothers or sisters, but I may not be so tolerant of a non family member expressing similar views. The key factor is group membership. (My spouse is a partial member, so she would get more leeway, but there would be a point at which I would be unwilling to tolerate, and that would be a lower level than one of my siblings would be allowed. The same dynamics apply to work colleagues vs non work colleagues. Team supporter’s vs non. And so on.
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    May 8 2011: Hello Sam and thanks .I think it's great your having this talk here and I think that backlash, in the case of the negativity you have experienced even in the TED Community is a good thing..in a way..as people feel their 'automatic response" buttons pushed maybe just maybe just maybe a few might say..hey wait a minute..let me think about this....and that is success..is it not?I think in a way using a reference/example that is highly charged..that does push those automoatic response buttons was exctly right..and you have dropped by to see our struggle tying to understand and apply radical empathy at Bill's converstaion, What is the Best Case for Bin Lade"n.Austin has made a central point, below ( above???? I'm confused by these TED threads) that radical empathy does not include, condoning, approving, agreeing with or even forgiving.. I also see in your teaching that it only requires that we open ourselves to exploring a larger whole, a larger true that includes more than the ready cultural conext in which we frame reactions.As Debra says beloe (above???) and was developed in quite an indepth conversation ather ongoing conversation on opposition within TED conversations, you put people right up against their paradigms with a big thud. ( Very courageous, by the way, you must have anticiated that). But without that big thud , the loud knock at the door, we wouldn't have gotten as far as having all the conversations we have had spinning from it and exploring it. (did you also see Andreas excellent conversation, now closed)I would refer folk joinging this conversation to your TED Talk, Debra's conversation, Andreas( now closed but stll available as reference) and Bills as background to the conversation Sam is inviting us to here. A hugeamount of ground was covered in those conversations which together are over 400 comments ( I think)
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    May 8 2011: I am not sure that the following idea might not undermine the strength and impact of your approach. Your idea of radical empathy relies on a strong confrontation of schemas in order to break through to revelation.,

    Even so here is one idea.
    If you walked a person through from indentifying with one group who were only marginally different and got them to identify with them, moved along to one that was somewhat more differeent and then to the terrorist and their lives you might find that there is less violent condemnation released.

    The gradual nature of the process might help some people to see your positive motivation a bit better.I still think that you are running into the price that is paid by iconoclasts. If you dare to challenge or break the schemas- you will see the backlash of the energy that is released to defend it and it can be vicious.
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      May 8 2011: with you 100% in that point debra and your own excellent conversation on schemas and paradigm reveals that, underscores that. I think Sam's reference had to be strong to get any bounce that could bring us to a possibility of exploring what radical empathy is ..and maybe even tryingit out,,as Bill has done in hi s talk. I know that you were one of the people who helped bring this talk to TED and you have done a very good thing in ding so..look how many very fruitful inquiries and discussions have been spawned.
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        May 8 2011: Thanks Lindsay but I do not want to take too much credit for that. I just made the suggestion when asked in a thread and it was TEDx who made the original talk possible and TED who chose to post it - demonstrating again their commitment to a better world, mulitple perspectives and dialogue.
        When I claimed any part in it in a previous post it was to demonstrate how democratic and unmanipulated the process was.
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          May 8 2011: well however we came to have this talk..I think you would agree it has brought us many. many many very penetrating and worthy Ted Conversations. ( and for the record passing a suggestion along in any context that brings important work like this to TED matters )
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        May 8 2011: : )