Diversity’s connection to Creativity

When people are exposed to a more diverse group of people, their brains are forced to process complex and unexpected information. The more people do this, the better they become at producing complex and unexpected information themselves. This trains us to look more readily look beyond the obvious - precisely the hallmark of creative thinking. 

Researchers have also found that creating and enjoying the arts can help us see things from a new perspective, by putting ourselves in a character's shoes. They can also create a feeling of connectedness and general kindness.

Opening ourselves to new experiences can seem hard to do, but it can help us cross divides and nurture new and inclusive friendships.

Julie Van de Vyver & Richard Crisp writing in BBC News 

Empathy is a Choice

Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us — a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain — it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. … This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams 

Empathy is always a risk

A few selfies in front of Tokyo Tower or the temples of Kyoto won’t be enough to understand the Japanese people. To understand them, you must be willing to live with them, eat their food, work alongside them.

This is one reason, perhaps, why the arrogant end up with few genuine friendships. How can you connect with someone when you think you know everything there is to know?

Empathy is always a risk. On one hand, we risk asking the wrong questions and, as a result, hurting or insulting someone. On the other hand, we risk creating a connection, an emotional two-way street we cannot close, that forces us to feel someone else’s pain and suffering.

Charles Chu writing in Medium 

Self-Control Is Just Empathy With Your Future Self

Empathy depends on your ability to overcome your own perspective, appreciate someone else’s, and step into their shoes. Self-control is essentially the same skill, except that those other shoes belong to your future self—a removed and hypothetical entity who might as well be a different person. So think of self-control as a kind of temporal selflessness. It’s Present You taking a hit to help out Future You.

Impulsivity and selfishness are just two halves of the same coin, as are their opposites restraint and empathy. Perhaps this is why people who show dark traits like psychopathy and sadism score low on empathy but high on impulsivity. Perhaps it’s why impulsivity correlates with slips among recovering addicts, while empathy correlates with longer bouts of abstinence. These qualities represent our successes and failures at escaping our own egocentric bubbles, and understanding the lives of others—even when those others wear our own older faces.

Ed Yong writing in The Atlantic

Fearing Outsiders

"It’s what we call an over-exclusion bias," Mina Cikara, a Harvard psychologist who studies intergroup conflict, said. When you start fearing others "your circle of who you counted as friends is going to shrink. And that means those people outside of the bounds get less empathy, get fewer resources." It also means you become more vigilant and obsessed with marking who is an insider and who is not. "You want to draw those boundaries brighter, so you don’t make any mistakes about who you want to share your resources with or who you want to trust," she says.

Brian Resnick writing in Vox

I’m on a search

At the trial in which he would be sentenced to death, Socrates (as quoted by Plato) said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Reading is the best way I know to learn how to examine your life. By comparing what you’ve done to what others have done, and your thoughts and theories and feelings to those of others, you learn about yourself and the world around you. Perhaps that is why reading is one of the few things you do alone that can make you feel less alone. It is a solitary activity that connects you to others.

So I’m on a search—and have been, I now realize, all my life—to find books to help me make sense of the world, to help me become a better person, to help me get my head around the big questions that I have and answer some of the small ones while I’m at it.

Will Schwalbe,  Books for Living

How long does it take to Read a Person’s Emotions?

Psychology professor William Ickes found that our ability to read strangers during a six-minute interaction is limited, but other experiments showed that we have much greater accuracy when reading our friends’ behavior. That’s not really shocking, but what is surprising is that when study subjects spent just a little more time with a stranger, their ability to read that person was just as good as their ability to read close friends. The magic time span? Thirty minutes. Time, or at least the amount of information acquired over time, is crucial to empathy. That is not only the case for real-life encounters, but also for stories.

Lene Bech Sillesen writing in the Columbia Journalism Review