The Art of Understanding Others
by Elizabeth A. Segal
Pub Date 16 Oct 2018
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Our ability to understand others and help others understand us is essential to our individual and collective well-being. Yet there are many barriers that keep us from walking in the shoes of others: fear, skepticism, and power structures that separate us from those outside our narrow groups. To progress in a multicultural world and ensure our common good, we need to overcome these obstacles. Our best hope can be found in the skill of empathy.
In Social Empathy, Elizabeth A. Segal explains how we can develop our ability to understand one another and have compassion toward different social groups. When we are socially empathic, we not only imagine what it is like to be another person, but we consider their social, economic, and political circumstances and what shaped them. Segal explains the evolutionary and learned components of interpersonal and social empathy, including neurobiological factors and the role of social structures. Ultimately, empathy is not only a part of interpersonal relations: it is fundamental to interactions between different social groups and can be a way to bridge diverse people and communities. A clear and useful explanation of an often misunderstood concept, Social Empathybrings together sociology, psychology, social work, and cognitive neuroscience to illustrate how to become better advocates for justice.
Elizabeth A. Segal is a professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. She is the author of Social Welfare Policy and Social Programs: A Values Perspective, fourth edition (2016) and coauthor of Assessing Empathy (Columbia, 2017).
This book brings together important ideas about how we relate to one another and make decisions about the society we live in. Using social empathy to frame community decision making such as social policies helps us understand our citizenship responsibilities. Especially in times of extreme political divisiveness, we need to be reminded of the consequences of a lack of social empathy—in our individual relationships, communities, and national discourse. Anyone who is asking difficult questions about divisiveness in their own community will find Segal’s ideas useful in reflecting on questions of why and what next.
-Sarah Garlington, Ohio University
Social Empathy expands on what we know about interpersonal empathy and strikes right at the heart of today’s partisan conflicts. In readable, humane, and informative prose, this book explains how we can overcome tribal instincts and forge the supportive, meaningful connections we need in order to thrive in today’s global environment.
-Caroline Wellbery, Georgetown University School of Medicine