The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society
Frans de Waal is a world-renowned primatologist and empathy expert, and this book is his masterpiece on the subject of empathy. De Waal brilliantly makes the case that the standard story that human beings are essentially selfish by nature has little scientific grounding. In fact, all the evidence points to the fact that we also empathic by nature, and that the capacity to empathise exists alongside our selfish inner drives. His evidence comes from looking at animals, especially primates such as the bonobo chimp. Basically he argues that since empathy is evident in our primate ancestors, then empathy is likely to have deep evolutionary roots in humans too. Natural selection favoured the development of empathy in two main ways. First, if mothers didn’t respond to their infant’s cries, then the baby wouldn’t survive. Second, we also needed empathy for group survival, such as sharing food in times of famine, or warning members of the group of approaching predators. Group survival and cooperation required being exquisitely tuned into the needs and feelings of those around us. In other words, we have evolved to be experts at putting ourselves in the shoes of others.