In 2015 the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking said that he believed that aggression was our biggest failing and that it could destroy us all.
According to Hawking, nuclear war would destroy civilization and could end the human race. The quality that we are most in need of devoloping in our time, in Hawking’s view, is empathy. Hawking would like to see empathy increase as he feels it makes it possible for human beings to come together in a peaceful and loving state.
Daniel Goleman, the acclaimed author on emotional intelligence has listed empathy among the 5 components of emotional intelligence. The others he mentions are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social skill.
Like quite a few others (such as Barry Schwartz for example), Goleman has taken up the challenge laid down by the great master of Practical Wisdom – Aristotle. This challenge is now more urgent than ever before.
‘Tough empathy’ was popularized by Robert Goffee and Gareth Jones in a Harvard Business Review article of Sept. 2000. This kind of empathy recognises that sometimes leaders have to push forward towards what is needed, even if that initially feels wrong. This process, however, only works if those who are being pushed feel and experience that their mentor, boss, leader, really cares about them and about the wider context of things.
Empathy can be learnt. Neuroplasticity (see section on Re-orientation) shows that the brain and the nervous system change. It takes some time – as Goleman himself has reminded us -but the benefits are great.