It seems that everyone, young and old, is innately programmed for sociability, attachment, affection and companionship rather than for aggression, violence and self-interest.

These emotions are naturally within us all and not just feelings that we learn through the society and culture in which we live.

This is the ‘natural way of things’ according to author Jeremy Rifkin who recently explained his theory of empathy at a talk given to the Royal Society of the Arts in London.

It follows then that fundamentally people are motivated by a desire to belong to a family, community, religious group, society or country.

Key ideas behind The Empathetic Civilisation theory are:

  • Increase in selfhood goes hand in hand with empathetic development
  • Mirror neurons – we experience someone else’s plight as if it were our own
  • Empathic drive to belong is the strongest feeling a human has
  • Solidarity is expressed through compassion
  • We can extend our empathy to the whole human race as an extended family as we evolve in consciousness
  • To empathise is to civilise and to civilise is to empathise

His views are backed up by recent findings in neuroscience. They have found that  humans, primates and possibly some other animals including elephants and dolphins have neurons that fire in response to watching someone else engage in an activity that has meaning for them (mirror neurons).  Simply put we humans can easily feel the emotions that other people are going through and have the ability to put ourselves in their ‘shoes’.

This empathetic response is even active in babies who have a response called ‘empathic distress ’which means they will cry if another baby cries, even if they don’t know the reason.  As a baby grows into a toddler they develop a sense of self and other, it is at this time that they begin to recognise another person’s feelings.

Developing technology has made us more aware of everything that is happening around the globe. This change in human consciousness has given us the ability to realise that we are all connected to each other and we are part of a single biosphere which we need to protect.

The question is: will we embrace this new consciousness and allow our natural empathy to grow and shape a world that works in harmony?

See the Youtube video at The Empathetic Civilisation.  

Writer Helen Splarn. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.
Source: The Empathetic Civilisation by Jeremy Rifkin.