• September 3, 2015

Empathic Education: The Transformation of Learning in an Interconnected World

Empathic Education: The Transformation of Learning in an Interconnected World 1

Michael Morgenstern for The Chronicle

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Michael Morgenstern for The Chronicle

With the passage of health-care reform, President Obama has turned his attention to reforming education in America. In his State of the Union Message, he called for a significant increase in support for his "Educate to Innovate" campaign, which puts renewed emphasis on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to ensure "our nation's economic competitiveness." The goal, according to the White House, is to equip every student with the knowledge that he or she needs to become a productive worker in the global economy.

Maybe it's time to ask the question of whether simply becoming economically productive ought to be the primary mission of American education. Shouldn't we place at least equal attention on developing students' innate empathic drives, so that we can prepare the next generation to think and act as part of a global family in a shared biosphere?

The biosphere is the narrow band, from the ocean floor to outer space, where living creatures and the earth's geochemical processes interact to sustain one another. We are learning that the biosphere functions like an indivisible organism. The continuous symbiotic relationships between every living creature and the geochemical processes are what ensure the survival of the planetary organism and life on earth. The issue of what kind of education students should be getting is particularly relevant today, as humanity attempts to cobble together a sustainable global society in time to avert potentially catastrophic climate change.

When we talk about revolutionizing the way our students learn, we must understand the larger context that sets the framework for fundamental changes in our notions about education. Ultimately, our ideas about education flow from our perceptions about reality and our concepts of nature—especially our assumptions about human nature and the meaning of the human journey—which become institutionalized in our educational processes. What we really teach, at any given time, is the consciousness of an era.

For example, at the dawn of the modern market economy and nation-state, Enlightenment philosophers—with some exceptions—saw people as rational, autonomous agents, driven by utilitarian desires and material interests. To bring out those qualities, educators established an educational system along the same lines.

Unfortunately, our system today is still largely mired in those outdated assumptions. The classroom is a microcosm of the factory system, market forces, and nation-state governance. Students have been taught to think of "knowledge as power" and to regard learning as an asset one acquires to advance one's material self-interest. The educational process emphasizes autonomous learning—sharing knowledge is considered cheating—and the mission is to produce efficient and productive workers for the market economy. While those Enlightenment assumptions have provided the intellectual motivation and justification for a vast expansion of wealth for many people, they have also left the earth's ecosystems in shambles, with ominous consequences for our species' future.

Of course, we know that the ideas espoused in the Enlightenment are not set in stone. Great changes in human consciousness occur when new, more-complex energy regimes arise, making possible more-interdependent and complex social arrangements. Coordinating those civilizations requires new, more sophisticated communications systems. When energy regimes converge with communications revolutions, human consciousness is altered.

All forager-hunter societies were oral cultures, steeped in mythological consciousness. The great hydraulic agricultural civilizations were organized around writing and gave rise to theological consciousness. Print technology became the communication medium to organize the myriad activities of the coal- and steam-powered first Industrial Revolution, 200 years ago. Print communication also led to a transformation from theological to ideological consciousness during the Enlightenment. In the 20th century, electronic communications became the command and control mechanism to manage a second industrial revolution, based on the oil economy and the automobile. Electronic communication spawned a new psychological consciousness.

Today we are on the verge of another seismic shift. Distributed information and communication technologies are converging with distributed renewable energies, creating the infrastructure for a third industrial revolution. In the 21st century, hundreds of millions of people will transform their buildings into power plants to harvest renewable energies on-site, store those energies in the form of hydrogen, and share electricity with one other across continental grids that act much like the Internet. The open-source sharing of energy will give rise to collaborative energy spaces, not unlike the collaborative social spaces on the Internet.

The third industrial revolution paves the way for biosphere consciousness. When each of us is responsible for harnessing the earth's renewable energy in the small swath of the biosphere where we dwell, but we also realize that our survival and well-being depend on sharing our energy across continental land masses, we come to see our inseparable ecological relationship to one another and our fellow species.

That new understanding coincides with discoveries in evolutionary biology, neurocognitive science, and child development that reveal that people are biologically predisposed to be empathic—that our core nature is not rational, detached, acquisitive, aggressive, and narcissistic, but affectionate, highly social, cooperative, and interdependent. Homo sapiens is giving way to Homo empathicus. Historians tell us that empathy is the social glue that allows increasingly individualized and diverse populations to forge bonds of solidarity across broader domains so that society can cohere as a whole. To empathize is to civilize.

Empathy has evolved over history. In forager-hunter societies, empathy rarely went beyond tribal blood ties. In the great agricultural age, empathy extended past blood ties to associational ties based on religious identification. Jews began to empathize with fellow Jews as if in an extended family, Christians began empathizing with fellow Christian, Muslims with Muslims, and so on. In the Industrial Age, with the emergence of the modern nation-state, empathy extended once again, this time to people of like-minded national identities. Americans began to empathize with Americans, Germans with Germans, Japanese with Japanese. Today empathy is beginning to stretch beyond national boundaries to biosphere boundaries. We are coming to see the biosphere as our indivisible community, and our fellow creatures as our extended evolutionary family.

The realization that we are an empathic species, that empathy has evolved over history, and that we are as interconnected in the biosphere as we are in the blogosphere, has profound implications for rethinking the mission of education. New teaching models designed to transform education from a competitive contest to a collaborative and empathic learning experience are emerging as schools and colleges try to reach a generation that has grown up on the Internet and is used to interacting in open social networks where information is shared rather than hoarded. The traditional assumption that "knowledge is power," and is used for personal gain, is being subsumed by the notion that knowledge is an expression of the shared responsibilities for the collective well-being of humanity and the planet as a whole.

Classrooms could become laboratories for preparing young people for biosphere consciousness. Students are already becoming aware that the way they live leaves an ecological footprint, affecting the lives of every other human being, our fellow creatures, and the earth we inhabit together. They learn, for example, that the wasteful use of energy in the family automobile or home results in an increase of carbon-dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. The rise in the earth's temperature that follows can lead to less rainfall and more droughts in other parts of the world, adversely affecting food production and putting more of the world's poor at risk of malnutrition and even starvation.

The new sense of biosphere interconnectivity and responsibility goes hand-in-hand with empathy workshops and courses that help students draw global emotional connections in the same way that environmental curricula help them draw global ecological connections. Empathy curricula now exist in 18 states. In many schools, empathy curricula start as early as first grade.

One interesting example is the Roots of Empathy project, begun by a Canadian educator, Mary Gordon, which has been introduced into first through eighth grades across Canada. A mother and her baby visit the classroom once a month for a school year. Students are asked to closely watch their interaction, especially how they communicate and respond to each other. Over the course of the year, the children experience the baby and her mother as unique people with needs and desires for affiliation and affection not unlike their own. They become attuned to reading the baby's feelings and develop an empathic relationship with the baby and the mother. Children come to learn about emotional literacy—which Gordon defines as "the ability to find our humanity in one another."

Putting students into direct emotional contact with the parent-child attachment process and empathic bond creates "citizens of the world—children who are developing empathic ethics and a sense of social responsibility that takes the position that we all share the same lifeboat," Gordon argues. "These are the children who will build a more caring, peaceful and civil society, child by child."

The newly emerging awareness of global ecological and emotional interconnectivity is accompanied by a revolution in the way students learn. The traditional top-down approach to teaching is giving way to a distributed and collaborative educational experience designed to instill a sense of the shared nature of knowledge. Intelligence, in the new way of thinking, is not something one inherits or a resource one accumulates, but, rather, an experience that is shared among people.

Such trends are taking education beyond the confines of the classroom to a global learning environment in cyberspace. The extension of the classroom's central nervous system to embrace the whole of civilization exposes students to their peers in widely different cultures, allowing empathic sensibility to expand and deepen. Education becomes a truly planetary experience.

The global extension of learning environments in cyberspace is being matched by the local extension of learning environments in school neighborhoods. The walls separating classrooms and communities are breaking down. In the past 20 years, American high schools and colleges have introduced service-learning programs into the curriculum—a deeply collaborative learning experience. The exposure to diverse people from various walks of life has spurred an empathic surge among the nation's young people. Studies indicate that many students experience a deep maturing of empathic sensibility by being thrust into unfamiliar environments where they are called upon to reach out and assist others. Such experiences are often life-changing, affecting students' sense of what gives their lives meaning.

Although not yet the norm, more classrooms at the college and secondary-school levels are also being transformed, at least for small periods of time, into distributed-learning environments. It's not uncommon for large class groups to be divided into work groups, which are then given collaborative work assignments. The students later reconvene in plenary sessions where they share their findings, generally in the form of group reports.

Distributed and collaborative education begins with the premise that the combined wisdom of the group, more often than not, is greater than the expertise of any given member, and that by learning together, the group advances its collective knowledge as well as that of each member. The value of distributed and collaborative education first came to light in the 1950s, in research conducted by M.L.J. Abercrombie at the University College London Hospitals. Dr. Abercrombie observed that when medical students worked together in small groups to diagnose patients, they were able to more quickly and accurately assess a patient's medical condition than when they diagnosed alone. The collaborative context allowed students the opportunity to challenge one another's assumptions, build on one another's ideas and insights, and come to a negotiated consensus regarding the patient's situation.

In distributed and collaborative learning environments, the process becomes as important as the product. The old hierarchical model of learning is replaced by network ways of organizing knowledge. Learning becomes less about pounding facts into individual students' brains and more about how to think collaboratively and critically. To be effective, collaborative learning requires mutual respect among all the players involved, a willingness to listen to others' perspectives, being open to criticism and a desire to share knowledge, and being responsible for and accountable to the group as a whole.

Distributed and collaborative learning favors interdisciplinary teaching and multicultural studies. The traditional reductionist approach to the study of phenomena is beginning to give way to the pursuit of "big picture" questions about the nature of reality and the meaning of existence—which require a more interdisciplinary perspective. Cross-disciplinary academic associations, journals, and curricula have proliferated in recent years, reflecting the burgeoning interest in the interconnectedness of knowledge. A younger generation of scholars is crossing traditional academic boundaries to create more-integrated fields of research. Several hundred interdisciplinary fields, like behavioral economics, eco-psychology, social history, eco-philosophy, biomedical ethics, and social entrepreneurship, are shaking up the academy and portending a paradigm shift in the educational process.

Meanwhile, the globalization of education has brought together people from diverse cultures, each with an anthropological point of reference. The result is a plethora of fresh ways of studying phenomena, each conditioned by a different cultural history and narrative. By approaching a study area from the perspectives of a number of academic disciplines and cultural perspectives, students learn to become open-minded and able to view phenomenon from more than one view.

Distributed and collaborative learning, with its emphasis on mindfulness, attunement to others, nonjudgmental interactions, acknowledgment of each person's unique contributions, and recognition of the importance of deep participation, can't help but foster critical thinking skills and greater empathic engagement. In that sense, collaborative learning transforms the classroom into a laboratory for empathic expression, which, in turn, enriches the educational process.

If our primary nature is Homo empathicus, and the biosphere is the larger indivisible community where we and our fellow creatures dwell, then the mission of education ought to be dedicated, at least in part, to the task of bringing out our core being, so that we can optimize our full potential not only as productive workers in the marketplace but, more important, as empathic human beings in the biosphere. Our nation and our schools and universities should invest in distributed and collaborative learning experiences­—curricula emphasizing the interconnectedness of life and geochemical processes in the biosphere, empathy courses that promote social behavior, cyberspace classes connecting students around the globe, service-learning programs in communities, sharing knowledge in peer groups, and interdisciplinary and multicultural studies—with the objective of nurturing students' empathic nature. While no one would disparage President Obama's effort to prepare our young people for the challenges they face in a global economy, the bigger task is to prepare students to live on a peaceful sustainable planet.

Jeremy Rifkin is the author of The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (Tarcher-Penguin), and a senior lecturer at the Wharton School's executive-education program at the University of Pennsylvania. This essay is adapted from his recent addresses to the annual meeting of the College Board and the British Royal Society for the Arts.


1. marka - June 01, 2010 at 08:05 pm

Hmm ... thought provoking article, but I'd have to disagree with many of the premises.

Although some empathy is, indeed, desireable, I see us collectively with too much empathy for each other, and not enough 'enlightenment.' In many cases, we are prisoners of the Enlightenment, but one of its gifts is the ability to study & analyse in more rigorous ways, in our pursuit of truth.

Another article on 'intuition' in this week's Chronicle highlights the problems with relying too much on intuition.

I'd submit that a similar analysis applies here -- 'empathy' is a major driver for many of our current social ills, including 'subprime' loans, and health care dysfunction. These unsustainable systems are in part due to empathy -- we want everyone to own a home, have unlimited health care, and have higher educations -- but at what cost?

We can't seem to find a way to tell our fellow neighbors that they (and we) can't afford a house, can't afford Cadillac sick care, or have everyone go to college. Here, in Oregon, we attempted to rationalize public payment for health care, but the system foundered, in part because there was always pressure to alter the rational priorities arrived at thru comparative effectiveness, and spend much of the fund on extremely expensive & largely ineffective last ditch 'treatments' for poster children. The result -- the fund dried up, and treatments for others denied, that could have been effective. We stole from Peter to pay Paul.

If Greece and the European Union economic problems are any indication -- and I think they are -- these kinds of 'empathic' responses to perceived needs tend to falter on payment. It always seems someone else should pay for these -- we aren't accountable or responsible for living within our means.

So ... some understanding of empathy, yes. Shifting our 'education' to empathy, no.

2. 11122741 - June 01, 2010 at 08:37 pm

God, I thought I was in my graduate seminar on the Goals and Future of American Education again ....in 1967 .....that bubble lasted for about 8 years ...just about the length of this one. I am sure all of the unemployed recent college graduate being crushed by their 100K debt have a lot of empathy for the global village and wish they had spent more of their time developing empathy skills. But then again, I grew up in the 50's in a dirt poor big family in a dead mill town in a "recession" who sent hand-me-downs in boxes to relatives in 2 countries in Europe who got his first paying job at 9 and put himself and his brothers and sisters through graduate school. I've never know what it is not to live within my means and pay my own way ...Marka hit many of the nails on the head. What we need to teach everyone is good old Yankee self-reliance and ingenuity, something I learned from the old Yankees in thew toww I grew up in; but what did those non-beautiful people know ...and they lived right here is Massachusetts!!; now how did that happen??

3. 22122488 - June 02, 2010 at 09:11 pm

The tension is an ongoing one between the forces of individualism and the promise and power of the larger group we wish to associate with - the gang. We still practice gang mentality in so many different forms and I dare say that I disagree with Rifkin's description of empathy. Empathy is a noble gesture and one that elevates the individual to a higher level of existence. Empathy is the door through which we can truly join the larger "gang" of them all, the gang of the human family. Through empathy we can survive the future by beginning to share wealth and power with those who are underprivileged. For example we can eat less and achieve that slim figure we aspire rather than spending billions of dollars on all fancy pills and diets. Yes we can do that and all those billions of dollars that we would have spent we could use to feed the hungry and house the homeless in the world. That is true empathy and one that always involves unselfish sacrifice for the greater good. In his 1952 letter to the New York Times, Albert Einstein described the ideal education. Amongst those other qualities that Einstein lists - there is one on Empathy, the ability to feel the suffering of others.

4. landrumkelly - June 03, 2010 at 07:59 am

You're right, of course, but expect to be bashed anyway.

5. drrussporter - June 03, 2010 at 08:43 am

Empathy is part of our affective education that is in short supply. While economic and community development is important, we create character on how we produce the economic and community development. As an input, empathy goes a lot farther than not having empathy when we look at outcomes. When was the last time we thought "gee, that was a great outcome, and I really liked the way the person mistreated me on the way to that great outcome."

6. batchro - June 03, 2010 at 10:23 am

Students do not get enough training in becoming critical thinkers in today's education system, or they are allowed shortcuts via technology to find "facts," rather than context. Without understanding context, young people cannot empathize, because they do not have the ability to consider the world that exists beyond the tip of their noses.

If Rifkin's call for empathy studies improves critical thinking skills, particularly in K-12 education, then it may be a wonderful foundational theme for re-imagining our school systems.

Most current students are too focused on the negative aspects trickled-down from the broader society, such as one-issue politics, negative campaigns, hyper-narcissism, etc., to achieve what Rifkin calls for in a
collaborative learning environment:

-- Mutual respect among all the players involved
-- Willingness to listen to others' perspectives
-- Open to criticism
-- Desire to share knowledge
-- Responsible for and accountable to the group as a whole

If educators focused on improving these skills, it would cause students to become better critical thinkers, thus necessitating that they use their abilities for the good of all.

7. panacea - June 03, 2010 at 10:24 am

I think the author is really asking, what is the role of the humanities in a world increasingly dominated by technology?

I think the author does the Enlightenment a disserve by assuming its primary output was the ideas of market forces that drove the Industrial Revolution. Many Enlightenment thinkers were working on marvelous ideas for their own sake, with the objective of bettering humanity, not patenting their discoveries (though there was plenty of that as well).

I really see this essay as a cry against the materialistic framework of the modern "First World" workplace, one that reaches for a utopian ideal that has never really existed.

If we want to stay relevant as a world power, educating students in math, science, and technology is essential. These disciplines teach rigourous thinking, so I'm not really worried about "empathy", which the author defines in a nebulous way.

That being said, marka is incorrect in his assessment that "empathy" drove the subprime market or our failing health care system. Market forces, unbridled capitalism has done that. Banks took too many unsustainable risks with investor money in the housing market. Corporations converted health care from a profession to an industry, with the predictable results. Empathy had nothing to do with these problems, and they are not a part of the solution either. Sound financial management, and putting the health back into health care IS.

8. jnicolay - June 03, 2010 at 11:20 am

Of course Professor Rifkin's poetry in prose provides thoughtful rumination. Here's the deal. 99.9% of my students do not even know there was an Enlightenment or what it was, meant, who fueled it, so on. The majority of the people that I know are not empathetic or even sympathetic to the "global" community, much less their local community. It is all rather an abstract. Gaia may be on the horizon, but alas, most of the human condition resembles hamsters on an exercise wheel.

9. intered - June 03, 2010 at 11:35 am

Does Mr. Rifkin understand that half of today's college students are adults, most of whom work and have adult family and civic responsibilities? These individuals are rational agents in the fullest sense. As such, they and they alone, get to decide why they want to take a course or seek a degree and what they want to learn.

As for the other half of the nation's college students, Mr. Rifkin appears to be imbued with the 1930's notion that college is a boutique enterprise serving the very smart and the very rich. Has he noticed that that the creation, expansion, and diversification of college's markets have transformed what there is to mean by 'college' into a family resemblance construct. (Sorry to mash two of his old colleagues together in this way. Inside joke.)

Mr. Rifkin, I like your ideas as they would have applied to me and no doubt many readers of this article when we were 18 years old. For today's higher education markets, however, it seems like you are out of touch and no amount of historico-philosophical analysis will bring back those good old days really never were. - Robert W Tucker

10. azprof - June 03, 2010 at 11:49 am

While I applaud the point of view but it appears that Jeremy Rifkin is burned out from being a business professor and the inherent biases of that discipline and has raced to embrace the humanities and all its inherent biases. Unfortunately by only embracing french enlightenment theories he has gone on reinvent the enlightement theories of the English; which must have been a bit awkward for his audience at the British Royal Society for the Arts. The article is a restating of generalities worthy of a senior in the humanities. I would recommend that Mr. Rifkin take some courses in the humanities; it would permit him to imbed more depth into his lofty prose.

11. jaysanderson - June 03, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Our loving, global family is more like a pack of wolves in the wild. If we don't teach students to compete, this nation will be relegated to eating the scraps left by the rest of the pack.

The idea that everyone in the world will sing, hold hands and drink a Coke together in a field of daisies is foolishness.

Teach students to solve difficult problems in the world. Economic success follows solutions to difficult problems, and there is nothing wrong with either.

12. jffoster - June 03, 2010 at 04:19 pm

Rifkin wants, among other things, :

"empathy courses that promote social behavior" and
"service-learning programs in communities"

He wants propaganda and compulsory Communitarianism -- Fascism with a Friendly Looking Face.

13. leadingedgeboomer - June 03, 2010 at 06:07 pm

#6 has it right. Empathy is not sympathy (an emotion), but it is an intellectual decision to understand the viewpoints of others with different views. This enhances life in many ways: expanded appreciation of how things work, greatly improved opportunities to build an interesting and diverse set of friends and colleagues, more likely collaboration and progress in solving our problems, etc.

14. darkroomjames - June 05, 2010 at 12:21 am

Darkroomjames-June 4, 2010 at 11:39pm

Why is Humanity Membership 101 reduced to such cynicism? Was I better off isolated from "joining the human race" by writing about my loss of God while studying issues in science and religion at SUNY Plattsburgh and scaring the bejesus out of my reading audience with my painful paradigm shift, only to find The Planet of the Educated Apes? I admit I committed the biggest theft of intellectual property in the world when I introduced myself to Rod Serling as the messiah, turned, and walked away. The FBI didn't think it was funny, nor the Catholic Church. But I still don't give permission to become a public person. I'm a half-educated nobody dodging religio-politics while pointing out issues in science and religion that only pours gasoline on the fire. Reading Jeremy Rifkin's conclusions looked sound to me, reminding me of kinder days during my 1970's SUNY education with promises of hope. But bizarre monsters like Rove and Limbaugh show where big money is at, not Jesus Christ, Ghandi, the Dalai Lama. What are we working for: empathy, misanthropy, competition, sapience, legalized theft, honest dollar for an honest day's work, or what? Who are our heroes these days? Or is there any such thing? I'm pointlessly future-shocked and dazed to cynicism and apathy. When I look for God now, I look to those brain neuronal sites that are excited by the phenomenology of ecstatic moments of admiration for the vastness of the universe that we see through the Hubble telescope these days, and wonder at our dumb luck to be that rare moment of sentience in this huge universe: human life on earth. It's dumb luck that seems so unlike the rest of the rotten luck we get as the raw deals of life. My biggest raw deal was to lose the peace of the Biblical world view and get ostracized for it, especially after intelligently making sense of losing God in letters to the editor over thirty years... God is a perception and experience, a place of peace in the mind. No one owns God. And some angry critics would claim to own me! (You don't know how crazy they are out there.) I plan to survive beyond my 58 years, but I don't expect that making sense in today's crumbling America is going to be at all popular, so why write about it? Rifkin dared to hope in front of his intellectual peers across generation gaps, trying to tease out some intersocial decency. Jaded educators with intellectual knives are such clever cannibal cooks. Rifkin is as naive as I have been. The human race is criminal and dangerous.
It's a wonder we've held on to the Bomb this long without using it. The BP spill in the gulf will change the East Coast economy and mood soon enough. Try working on that heart break.

Is it wrong to hope? Is it time to declare God a fraud and close the churches? Even in the face of defenders of the faith? Is compassion a howling disgrace? A weakness? Socialism? Betrayal?
I am waiting for a science-educated, visionary church to represent the universe. Even to define God from the Human Genome origins in the brain/mind, where a variety of religious experiences will become direct, not printed... It's science fiction now, but it's not impossible. It is a time-honored place in the mind/brain, with awareness of "Two Cultures Now" by C.P. Snow. Let's find the Heart of Gold, not the Heart of Darkness.

15. jffoster - June 05, 2010 at 08:01 am

Mr. darkroom (14),
Stephen Jay Gould once characterized Jeremy Rifkin's work as "anti-sciantific propaganda masquerading as scholarship", or words to that effect.

By the way, your ramblings above sometimes border on incoherence.

16. darkroomjames - June 05, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Darkroomjames- June 5, 2010 at 10pm

In response to jffoster,
Good Heavens, a live human being! Yes, I don't doubt that my "ramblings" may very well be just that; such is the state of my intellectual/religio-political nakedness. Quick, give me and a million other future-shocked students of science shelter, food for the mind, clothing for the soul. Bereft of the quick fixes of Christendom, we wander aimlessly through New Age garbage hikes, fake tribal awakenings, Stonehenge feel-good theater that goes nowhere, and watch endless reruns of 2001, The Planet of the Apes series, Star Trek, Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" series, Joseph Campbell's "Power of Myth" series, and wonder why the science community has not yet established an appropriate way and place to celebrate every need of the human soul and mind in existence in the universe.

I've been a Methodist, considered becoming a Quaker, a Buddhist, a Bahai, a Reformed Jew, a secular humanist, an atheist, and even taken the online quiz to determine what faith best represents most closely what I believe in. I am incoherent because that represents my educational state. I am also incoherent because that represents the current spiritual state of grace of anti-science churches around the world. Even Scientology isn't worthy science, IMHO. At best I am a pretentious, loud-mouthed and slightly irreverent critic of frustrated spiritual consumerism that tries not to say anything unless it looks like a promising and possibly productive setting. Would the Dalai Lama make a good student of all the sciences? Man, would he become influential! Carl Sagan almost had enough chutzpah, but it angered the jealous dinosaurs...

So, Jffoster, where do we go from here? Care to create a worthy live TV show for the half-educated religio-science students of the world? Or is it the Iron Curtain on such spirituality? "In an open society..." (Yeah, right.) Homeland Security looks on disapprovingly, so it seems from here. And that may be because it's deemed too dangerous to teach, speak, and honor the scientific truth in a fragile public. Yes I know "fools rush in where angels fear to tread." But the footprint on the moon is permanent, despite frantic efforts to cover it up! "They" can't go there, but we must. It's time for scientifically-honest holy men and women... Congress and the GOP, Homeland Security, the Roman Catholic Church, and any other would-be enemies of intellectual honesty and spiritual grace must set the example of declaring this the time and place, or forbid intellectual honesty forever where the Bible gets set in stone, with overtones of despair for all who dare think and learn science without walls or iron curtains.

17. jffoster - June 06, 2010 at 01:31 pm

It makes little difference what label you put on an empty bottle.

18. arrive2__net - June 06, 2010 at 01:44 pm

I think Rifkin's idea about implementing some broad prioritization of empathy in college is too simplistic. The future will be more demanding than that. I think that in the future the ability to empathize on a level that facilitates collaborative action will be necessary, but so will a lot of other kinds of responses, and the key will be knowing when to apply what kind of a response, and for who. For example, given the oil spill, empathizing with the residents of the Gulf Coast seems appropriate to me, but empathizing with BP investors (why should they have to pay all that money over what was accidental) does not seem called. Another obvious example is leadership. People should be placed in leadership positions because of effectiveness and competence, not because we empathize with their desire for power. I might seem obvious ... and I think it is obvious ... that more complex ways of understanding and dealing with the world are needed. So, as I see it, given the context discussed in the article, empathy is necessary, but not sufficient.

Bernard Schuster

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