Dr. Laurie Santos is Professor of Psychology and Head of Silliman College at Yale University. Professor and podcast host Dr. Laurie Santos is an expert on human cognition and the…
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Feeling you belong to a group can be great – but it also has a darker side, leading us down an unhappy path of hatred and violence towards people with different identities and backgrounds.
Dr. Laurie Santos talks to Mina Cikara – whose homeland descended into a bloody civil war – and Jamil Zaki about how we can fight hatred with empathy, kindness and difficult conversations.
(Deep canvassing clips courtesy of The Leadership Lab https://leadership-lab.org/ at the Los Angeles LGBT Center.)
To learn more. . .
Mina Shakara: I am not a groupie person really at all. I don't really care about sports. I don't really care about teams. I did not care about baseball at all. I really was only there because I was so smitten with him.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina Shakara is telling me about an early date she had with her husband Carrie. Carrie is an avid Boston Red Sox fan, so they decided to check out a game against the Sox's archrivals, the Yankees. And they did so in enemy territory, Yankee Stadium.
Mina Shakara: He is a little bit risk seeking, and so he decided to wear his Red Sox hat to this game. Even just getting off at the subway station was already a bunch of jokes and ribbing and look at this guy. And what was really interesting to me though was that it seemed very goodhearted at first. It was just sort of people enacting the script.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: But as the game wore on, the score got closer and closer and the entire stadium grew tense. The banter stopped being playful and Carrie wasn't reacting well.
Mina Shakara: So at some point I decided I'm going to take the hat from him because I don't want him to get into a fist fight here. So I didn't have anywhere to put this hat, so I put it on my own head thinking I'm not a fan of either team. I really couldn't care less about this. No one's going to talk to me, no one's going to say anything. And I couldn't have been more wrong about that assumption. So the second I put on the hat, people started calling me names. They started telling me about my mother. They started saying all manner of horrible things about me.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: But there was a second assumption Mina was wrong about. She thought if she got taunted, it wouldn't bother her. But within minutes of putting on that Red Sox cap, Mina found herself screaming at Yankee fans in the seats all around her.
Mina Shakara: My husband actually had to put himself between me and this other guy. And this experience gave me this incredible insight, which was that by virtue of marking myself as a member of Red Sox Nation, I started to get treated that way. And once I started to receive that treatment, I started to react on behalf of Red Sox Nation.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina had unwittingly fallen prey to some of the most dangerous forces in all of human nature, our intergroup biases.
Mina Shakara: So it's that shift that happens when you approach an idea or an interaction, not through the lens of me and you, but rather through the lens of us and them.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: As humans, we naturally divide the world into ingroups and outgroups. And not just on sports fields. We also do so across political, ethnic, racial, national, and ideological lines as well. The bonding we get from being part of a group can sometimes feel good. It can make us feel connected like we're part of something bigger than ourselves. But our partisan urges can also cause us to feel pretty miserable. They can steal opportunities to make meaningful connections with people who are different from us. They can make us feel angry at the other side and cause us to engage in nasty, sometimes even violent behaviors. And our tendency towards us versus them thinking has even led to much worse outcomes than a dip in our personal happiness. These urges hinder important progress in politics. They can fuel lethal racist violence, deadly ethnic conflicts, and some of the worst atrocities human history has ever seen.
Mina Shakara: By some counts, over 200 million civilians, not soldiers, civilians, perished in the last century as a result of large scale group violence.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: So in a time when our society is feeling more divided than ever, what can we do to avoid all the anger and bitterness? What can we do to fight the intergroup biases that lead to so much unhappiness? These are the very, very hard issues that we'll try to tackle scientifically in this season's final two episodes of The Happiness Lab.
Our minds are constantly telling us what to do to be happy. But what if our minds are wrong? What if our minds are lying to us, leading us away from what will really make us happy? The good news is that understanding the science of the mind can point us all back in the right direction. You're listening to The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos.
We left Mina's story with her screaming uncontrollably, having to be restrained by her boyfriend from squaring off with people she'd never met, her passion's inflamed by a game she had zero interest in just hours before. It may sound crazy that one little Red Sox hat could cause all that trouble, but yet ...
Mina Shakara: It 100% happened and was actually the impetus for my dissertation.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina is now a professor of psychology at Harvard University. She's become a world expert on the neural underpinnings of our intergroup biases. As we got to talking, I learned that Mina's unfortunate foray into Red Sox fandom wasn't the first time she'd seen the dark side of our us versus them thinking,
Mina Shakara: My dad is Serbian, my mom is Bosnian. My entire family is from former Yugoslavia.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina. And her parents moved to the United States in the 1980s, but her extended family stayed in former Yugoslavia as her homeland descended into bloody civil war.
Mina Shakara: I would hear these harrowing stories of people who had been neighbors for decades who had raised their children together. They had been friends, they had been in each other's weddings, and basically when things took a turn politically, they turned on each other and murdered one another or tried to murder one another. And this was really, I mean, horrifying, but also really fascinating to me in part because what it revealed to me was how quickly these dynamics can change
Dr. Laurie Sant...: The speed with which our group instincts can lead to all out violence is especially shocking because generally speaking, humans really don't like doing bad things to one another.
Mina Shakara: Laurie, did you punch somebody today?
Dr. Laurie Sant...: I have not punched somebody today. It's been a good day.
Mina Shakara: Have you punched anyone in the last month?
Dr. Laurie Sant...: No, in fact.
Mina Shakara: Okay, how about the last year?
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Actually, no. I'm a kind of non puncher most of the time.
Mina Shakara: Yeah, right. And what's really interesting about this is that there seem to be very strong moral prohibitions against harm that guide most people's behavior most of the time.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Decades and decades of psychological research show that we really don't like doing mean stuff. One study by the neuroscientist Molly Crockett found that participants were more reluctant to administer an electric shock to a stranger than they were to shock themselves. Harvard psychologist Fiery Cushman found that people even get queasy when they pretend to harm other people. He had his subjects point a toy gun in someone's face or smash the skull of a realistic looking plastic baby. Cushman found that even though people knew these mean actions were fake, they still showed a strong physiological reaction to doing them. They had an increased heart rate and other bodily signs of arousal. And participants showed these physiological reactions more when performing the fake actions themselves versus watching a similar action being performed by somebody else. We just hate doing mean stuff. And yet every day we see videos of people doing violent things to strangers who've done them no harm.
Mina Shakara: So that's this puzzle. And what it suggests is that there had to be certain preconditions or certain factors in place in order for people to overcome this aversion to harm.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina has spent the last decade studying what leads people down this awful road towards actively wanting to hurt members of other groups. She's found that the first step is what psychologists have christened the intergroup empathy gap. Normally we feel sad when others are sad and a bit of empathic pain when others get hurt. But not always.
Mina Shakara: It wouldn't make sense for us to empathize with all people all the time, right? If we really felt the weight of every person in the world, we'd never get out of bed. And it turns out that more and more evidence indicates that these failures of empathy are particularly likely when targets are socially distant, so when they belong to other social or ethnic groups.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Tons of studies show that we literally don't experience the pain of outgroup members the same way we do for people in our own group. There's evidence, for example, that white doctors are less likely to prescribe pain medication to their black patients. And even when such pain reducers are prescribed, they're given in lower quantities. Our indifference to other groups' pain mean that even doctors can inadvertently cause people who are unlike them to suffer more than is necessary. But an absence of empathy still doesn't mean that we're cool with knowingly causing bad things to happen to other people. To do that, we need to take the next troubling step on that dangerous intergroup path, one that's summed up by a German word, Schadenfreude, literally harm joy.
Mina Shakara: Schadenfreude really specifically refers to the malicious pleasure that people feel when they see another person suffering. Oftentimes, if you just don't like someone, if you perceive that someone has acted in an unjust way, if they're undeserving or if you envied them, that these would all be precursors for feeling pleasure when you saw that person suffer misfortune.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: But Mina wanted to know if Schadenfreude could also be at the root of between group conflicts too.
Mina Shakara: Would it be enough just to know that someone came from a different group in order to be able to engender this kind of aggressive malicious pleasure?
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Human history has shown us that it's surprisingly easy to get people to feel schadenfreude towards outgroup members.
Mina Shakara: Sports is this great microcosm in which to study these dynamics because people not only feel allowed, but emboldened to say really horrible things about the outgroup. So what we realize is if we could just tap into individuals who identified as sports fans that maybe we could get some honest responding when we just asked them how good does it make you feel to see this bad thing happen to these other folks?
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina recruited, of course, Red Sox and Yankees fans. She stuck them inside a brain scanner and showed them cartoon versions of baseball plays involving lots of different teams. But on the critical trials, the ones Mina was really interested in, they got to watch good and bad things happen to their rivals.
Mina Shakara: What we found was that watching your rival fail engaged several different brain regions. But the only one that was associated with just how much pleasure participants said that they felt was this region called the ventral striatum.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: The ventral striatum is part of our brain's reward circuit. But this region doesn't just register, "Hey, that event felt really good." It's also critically involved in learning. That means that when the ventral strum is activated, it helps us decide how we personally should behave in the future.
Mina Shakara: It notes when there's a surprising positive event in the environment and says, "Okay, let's come back to taking the action that brought that event about because that's going to be the thing that's going to be rewarding in the future."
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Mina's Red Sox fans were starting to make a mental connection between that great Schadenfreude feeling and the possibility that they could use their own personal behaviors to cause that nice feeling again, perhaps by actively harming someone else.
Mina Shakara: Those participants who exhibited that much more ventral striatum activation in response to watching their rival fail, were the same people who told me two weeks later that they would be that much more likely to heckle, hit, and insult a rival fan. So that for me established this suggestive link between the sort of pleasure of watching outgroup failure or harm and potentially the likelihood that it was related to your own desire to become the agent of harm and other circumstances.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: And these awful dynamics don't just play out on sports fields. The same processes are at least partially at work in settings where people engage in more large scale violence. Think ethnic cleansing like Mina's family experience in Yugoslavia, or hate crimes against marginalized groups, or the long legacy of lethal violence that law enforcement personnel have inflicted on black people in the United States. The processes Mina has observed in her baseball fans likely contribute to the many acts of racist violence we see in the news shockingly often, especially in cases where there are structural features in place to help inflame our sense of competition and increase our fear of the other side. Now understanding the processes that lead to these violent acts, of course doesn't excuse them. I want to be super clear on that point. But Mina's work is incredibly important here because it shows just how easily situational and structural factors can lead otherwise non-violent people towards brutal actions.
Mina Shakara: To me, the most striking thing about schadenfreude is not that it happens, but how quickly we can shift from empathy or indifference to taking pleasure in other people's pains and that there are cases in which outgroup harm appears to be driven by just the sheer hedonic benefit, it just feels good. And I find that totally fascinating.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Now, there are lots and lots of structural changes needed to stop the large scale intergroup violence we see all over the world. But Mina's work suggests that we might also be able to intervene psychologically to curb at least some parts of these often lethal downward cycles. And as is often the case in the Happiness Lab, part of the solution might involve recognizing the mistakes our minds are making all the time.
Mina Shakara: I've been talking a lot about how competition is doing quite a bit of work in these contexts. And I think that a huge part of conflict escalation is actually a mistake that we make in intergroup contexts, which is that we don't deal with a person in front of us. Instead, what we're doing is we're dealing with some idea, some model, some stereotype of who they are.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: When we get back from the break, we'll examine how we can turn off our intergroup empathy gap and do so in a way that can not only make us happier, but also holds the promise of helping us to make society a kinder and less polarized place. The Happiness Lab will be right back.
Jamil Zaki: I'm very worried. I think that there are lots of trends that are pushing us away from what is really our true or natural state, which is to be interconnected with each other. That said, I'm not fatalistic. I think that there are things we can do to push back.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: This is my friend Jamil Zaki, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. Jamil has just written an important new book called The War for Kindness, Building Empathy in a Fractured World.
Jamil Zaki: It used to be called Choosing Empathy, which now is the title of one of the chapters. I started writing it in 2015, and I don't know, around late 2016, early 2017, I can't quite put my finger on what it was, but something changed in our culture. I felt like things were getting crueler and less connected and people were getting really exhausted with trying to connect with each other and really embracing social division in a way that I hadn't seen in my adult life. I felt like I was being a Pollyanna just writing this kind of positive, "Hey, you know, can choose empathy too," when all around me, it seemed like this giant tire fire where people just hated each other more than ever. And it felt to me like I needed and wanted to acknowledge that to be empathic, to choose empathy is a radical choice in today's culture. It is a fight against other forces that are pushing us in the opposite direction.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Jamil wants us to get pissed off at the current polarized state of society and to take up arms for a coming battle. But his war doesn't involve weapons or the usual intergroup bloodshed. Jamil wants us to fight divisiveness and our ever-increasing sense of disconnection. He wants each and every one of us to commit to being kinder to one another. If you've paid any attention to the news in the last few years, you understand that Jamil's war for kindness is becoming more and more of an uphill battle. A growing body of work shows that empathy in general seems to be decreasing over time. One study presented people with a series of statements and asked them how well it described them on a scale from one, not at all to five, fit you perfectly. The statements were things like, I often have tender concerned feelings for people who are less fortunate than me. And when I'm upset at someone, I usually try to put myself in their shoes for a while.
Jamil Zaki: And what they found was that in 1979, the average American scored like a four out of five, which sounds not terrible, maybe a B.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: But by 2009, the average American dropped down to a 3.5 out of five.
Jamil Zaki: So to put that in perspective, the average American in 2009, less empathic by this measure than 75% of Americans just 30 years before.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: This rising level of disconnection means that more and more of us are missing out on a potential boost to our wellbeing.
Jamil Zaki: It's surprising to a lot of people that empathy is good for us, the empathizer. We typically think of it almost like a transfer, like I give up my money or time or emotional peace in order to help you have more of it. It's sort of the quintessential act of self-sacrifice. It turns out though that the data point almost exactly in the opposite direction, that caring for others is one of the most important ways we can care for ourselves. People who experience a lot of empathy also tend to be happier, less stressed, and experience less depression. They find it easier to make new friends and to maintain important relationships like their marriages. Seventh graders who are able to understand what others feel are also better able to survive seventh grade, which is not easy if my recollection serves.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: The false intuition that empathic work reduces our happiness is hard to shake. Jamil saw this himself when he taught a class at Stanford called Becoming Kinder.
Jamil Zaki: So every weekend I would give students these kindness challenges, these little practical assignments meant to help push them to empathize more. And one of the very first ones that we did was spend on someone else. So in a moment when you don't feel like you have enough time or energy for yourself, do the thing that doesn't come naturally to you and help someone else instead. And the students were really worried about this because it was midterm season. It feels like it's always midterm season.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: It's always midterm season.
Jamil Zaki: It's somehow always midterm season. But they were freaked out. They were overwhelmed. And they thought, "God, I don't have the time to do stuff for other people." And reliably, they came back from that challenge feeling like, "I was shocked because after I helped someone else, I didn't feel depleted. I felt energized. I kind of felt like if I can do for someone else, then I must be doing okay myself."
Dr. Laurie Sant...: When we don't take actions that could make the people around us feel better, when we don't check in with friends or notice if a coworker is in pain or stop to aid a stranger, it means we are each contributing to that tire fire culture Jamil talked about earlier. But Jame's work shows that doesn't have to be the case.
Jamil Zaki: Another trick that our minds play on us and that our culture plays on us is convincing us that we can't change. I think there's this big stereotype that some people are empathic, some people are not. And whatever level of empathy you have, it's like your adult height or your eye color, you'll have it for life. But I think that the evidence actually, again, point in the opposite direction. There are things we can do to push back. I mean, the fact that empathy has declined so much in the last 30 years means that it's malleable. Things that go down can come up. And I think that one of the first things that I want people to understand is that empathy is under our control more than we realize.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: There are specific strategies each of us can use today to increase our empathy. And not just in a parochial way where we extend kindness only to the people who are like us. The science says we can turn up compassion to fight the dangerous intergroup empathy gaps that plague our culture, and that we may even be able to use some of these strategies to start reducing the biggest and most painful divides in society. We'll examine all these exciting possibilities when the happiness lab returns in a moment.
Jamil Zaki: It turns out that in fact, empathy is like a skill. And there are lots of things that we can do to cultivate empathy in ourselves and others.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: When Jamil taught his Becoming Kinder class, he gave his students a super hard assignment, an empathy challenge. He christened Disagreeing Better.
Jamil Zaki: Hello and welcome back everybody.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: You can check out a version on his website.
Jamil Zaki: Find someone with whom you have an ideological difference of opinion. But then instead of yelling at each other or judging each other, or even debating, I want you to try to cultivate curiosity about each other. Ask this person how they came to have their opinion in the first place, and share with them the story of how you came to have your opinion in the first place.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Students embarked on hard conversations with racist Facebook posting uncles and frank discussions about sexuality with their less than progressive parents. They predicted that these exchanges would end in frustration or even tears. But in nearly all cases, those story sharing conversations went better than expected.
Jamil Zaki: When you start with narratives, instead of either calling people out or saying how wrong they are, you get to a new type of discussion right away. One in which it actually doesn't matter as much if you agree on every point, but something just as important or maybe even more important happens, which is that they grow to appreciate that people they disagree with are not necessarily bad people. They're just people with different stories than their own.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: No one owes anyone empathy, especially if they're expressing bigoted viewpoints. But Jamil says his students were still surprisingly grateful for having been given the challenge because it taught them that making connections across seemingly unbridgeable divides is actually possible. But you might be saying, this is just an anecdote from one college class of students talking to their family members. Is there scientific evidence that sharing stories and empathic work like this really does the job? Can connecting over shared experiences actually reduce the inner group disconnection we see all over the world?
Speaker 4: Did you vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to continue to marry, or did you vote to ban gay and lesbian couples from being able to marry?
Speaker 5: I sustained. I didn't vote either way.
Speaker 4: You didn't vote either way?
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Typical political canvasing involves knocking on someone's door and launching into a one-way conversation filled with facts, figures, and strong arguments. This style of canvassing doesn't really work, especially when the usual political partisanship tightens its grip.
Josh Kalla : My name's Josh Kalla. I'm an assistant professor of political science and data science at Yale University. People just tune it out. They won't engage, they won't pay attention or they'll argue against it. Most people are just such consistently democrat or such consistently Republican. There's often not a much room to change someone's mind there.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: But Josh and his colleagues have begun studying the effectiveness of a new kind of canvassing, one that can break down our inner group blinders, and one that also employs a lot of the same empathic practices that Jami and his students used in that disagreeing better assignment.
Josh Kalla: Deep canvassing is a longer form of canvasing that really involves sharing personal narratives about an issue. It often involves a canvasser sharing a moment in their life that is somehow relevant to the issue that's being studied.
Speaker 4: I'm a gay guy. I doubt that totally shocks you, and I was in a relationship for 18 years.
Josh Kalla: Often those stories then prompt the voter to share their own story.
Speaker 5: When my wife died or whatever, it broke my heart. Well, no, it didn't break my heart, it put a hole in it, and it won't heal.
Speaker 4: Yeah, it sounds like marriage is incredibly important to you.
Speaker 5: Well, I was married 47 years till she passed away.
Josh Kalla: But what we find is that by talking through these stories, the type of discrimination that we're trying to reduce becomes much more concrete, and it also reduces a lot of fears that the voter has towards that outgroup. It helps them understand what does this word transgender actually mean? Or what does this word undocumented immigrant actually mean? By walking through the life of an undocumented immigrant or a transgender person through hearing their story.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Hearing the canvasser's stories tends to shut off the indifference we typically feel for people outside our tribe. Deep canvassing also forces the listener to see people from unfamiliar groups and with unfamiliar views as people. And that empathic boost allows deep canvassers to do something that billions of dollars of political ads can't. They actually change people's minds about controversial political issues.
Speaker 4: You know this issue's going to come up for a vote again in the future.
Speaker 5: I would vote for it this time.
Speaker 4: Vote in favor of allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry? Oh, good. And what's-
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Josh's Careful field research has found that deep canvassing gets about five to seven new supporters for every hundred people they talk to. Now, that might not sound like much, but for ballot measures that are typically won or lost by less than five percentage points, deep canvassing can make or break the adoption of a progressive new law. But what's most impressive about Josh's deep canvassing findings is that these persuasion effects last a long, long time.
Josh Kalla: We'll keep doing those follow up surveys 2, 3, 4, 5 months later. And typically, we run out of money to run more surveys before the effects dissipate.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: But aside from the politics, Josh has also seen how powerful deep canvasing can be in empathically connecting people from different identities. One of his favorite examples comes from an encounter in Florida during a campaign for trans rights.
Josh Kalla: He was a transgender canvasser, and he shows up to a house that has a big American flag and had a pickup truck, and he's really bracing himself for what he expects to be a really difficult conversation.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: The Canvasser shared his story anyway. He described the kinds of prejudice and misunderstanding he faces on a near daily basis. He even shared a story about being made fun of and called an animal on the New York subway.
Josh Kalla: After sharing this story of personal discrimination, he asks the person he's canvassing, this white macho pickup truck drivin' American flag guy, "Have you ever faced anything like that?" The guy he's canvassing really pauses for a minute and says, "The experiences that you face, the discrimination that you face, and people's lack of empathy and understanding, it's not that different than the experiences that I face. I served in Afghanistan, I did two tours there. I came back and I had PTSD. People would look at me like I was crazy, and they wouldn't understand what was going on." And what I love about that story is it just questions so many of the assumptions that we all make and shows that, again, if we're patient, if we question those assumptions, if we're vulnerable and try and listen and share our experiences, we can be successful at changing minds.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Jamil is a huge fan of Josh's deep canvassing work because it provides a wonderful example of the central claim in his War for Kindness book, that empathy is a skill we can build over time, a tool we can use to do some amazing things if and when we have the bandwidth to use it.
Jamil Zaki: I think our culture right now includes a lot of threat. At home, online, outside, we're constantly feel as though there are people who threaten our identity, who threaten our way of life, who threaten our beliefs. And I'm not going to say that that's untrue. And although it's easy and natural to engage in, I guess what you'd call out culture, so just sort of attacking people who have toxic or problematic attitudes, I think the hard but often very productive thing to do is to be the person who takes that first step, who puts their guard down and decides to be vulnerable.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: And Jail himself recognizes just how hard that first step can be.
Jamil Zaki: It can be really exhausting to try to empathize with people who are different from us, especially if they have opinions that we might fear or abhor.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Now, I try really hard to be an understanding person. And I truly believe in the importance of Jamil's Battle for kindness. But almost every day I see some view online that makes me see red. When people seem to be so hateful, it's really, really hard for me to see them as deserving of my compassion or my emotional energy. I was surprised that the guy who literally wrote the book on empathy got exactly what I was saying.
Jamil Zaki: Trust me, I feel that way all the time. I still remember when the New York Times had this whole very sympathetic portrayal of a family in Illinois that happened to be Nazis. And I remember a detail where they were trying to humanize this family by talking about how they cooked their pasta. And I just remember thinking, "I don't want to hear about your Nazi pasta. I don't want to humanize you." It's exhausting to connect. And it's especially exhausting to connect with people who say things that are awful and that don't really deserve a platform. So I think it's perfectly okay for people to think about what they have the energy for, what they have the space for. And no one should feel like they're obligated to connect with or empathize with somebody who's saying awful things. Now, no one has to do this. It's not anybody's job, but when we do, it's remarkable how powerful that can be. Because sometimes what you realize is that people on the other side are also waiting for a chance to be human.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: Despite the uphill battle, Jamil's optimistic that his war for kindness is gaining new recruits.
Jamil Zaki: I've received hundreds of emails that are something along the lines of, "I am so fed up with this culture of division. I want more empathy in the world, but I'm the only one." And I'm almost like, "Can I put you all in a group chat or something because there's so many of you?" And I think we often feel alone, like we are the only ones swimming upstream against a culture of hatred and division and isolation. But I think it's really shocking how powerful it can be to take the first step, to be that change instead of waiting for it. Because when we take a step towards listening to others, towards being vulnerable with them, oftentimes we find that they're ready to do the same thing.
And I think that if each one of us does that, that can change our lives and it can change the lives of people around us, maybe even save lives. The thing that really inspires me is what could happen if a lot of us did that, if most of us did that? Because then we wouldn't be changing lives one at a time, we'd have the chance to actually change our entire culture.
Dr. Laurie Sant...: I try to be an optimistic person, but right now, in 2020, the idea that our entire culture will change for the better seems a pretty distant hope. So much about how our institutions work seems to be wrong. And the flaws in these systems lead to prejudice, cruelty, and injustice. And lots of people don't seem to realize that the burden of all these awful things continues to hurt some marginalized groups more than others. Seeing all this makes me really sad and angry at the groups I feel are responsible. I hate the injustice, I hate the divisions, and I hate the hate. Even on my best days. It's hard not to lose hope that I personally can make any difference in these historic problems. But I don't want to just retreat to my ingroup, and I don't want to empathize with only people who are exactly like me, [inaudible] the pain and misfortune of those who hold different views or who've lived different lives.
So I'm now committing to trying to follow Jamil's advice. I'm going to remember that the science shows my intuitions are wrong, that if I try to take the first step and put my guard down, at least in those cases where I have the emotional bandwidth to do so, it might be more effective than I think. Rather than only seeing someone as a member of an identity I disagree with, I'll try to connect a bit better. I'll ask people to share their stories. And if they'll listen, I'll share my own. But like Jamil, I also want to make sure that all this empathic labor is a bit more evenly distributed, that the hard work of deep connection doesn't just fall to historically marginalized groups who've long been on the receiving side of all the injustice. These are the folks who are least likely to have the needed emotional bandwidth to make connections. I also want to make sure that we're distributing the work of correcting these injustices a little more fairly, and that the blind spots of our mind don't prevent well-intentioned people like me from inadvertently making all those structural inequalities worse.
And so when the Happiness Lab returns next time, we'll tackle all these issues directly. In our next episode, How to Be a Better Ally, we'll hear what science says about how you can fight the structures that lead to some of society's worst injustices and how the lies of our minds sometimes cause good people to unknowingly make things worse. We'll also see that using evidence-based strategies for becoming a better ally can not only boost your own personal wellbeing, but more importantly can make us more effective in contributing positively to the causes we care about most. And so I hope you'll return next week to hear the final season two episode of The Happiness Lab with me, Dr. Laurie Santos.
The Happiness Lab is co-written and produced by Ryan Dilly. Our original music was composed by Zachary Silver, with additional scoring, mixing, and mastering by Evan Viola. Pete Naughton also helped with production. Joseph Fridman checked our facts, and our editing was done by Sophie Crane McKibbon. Special thanks to Mia Lobel, Carly Migliori, Heather Fain, Julia Barton, Maggie Taylor, Maya Koenig, Jacob Weisberg, and my agent, Ben Davis. The Happiness Lab is brought to you by Pushkin Industries and me, Dr. Laurie Santos.