What is empathy, exactly? Is it the cure for all our social ills? Is it a skill to be acquired or something inherent in us all? Cris Beam addresses all this and more in her brilliant investigation into, and interrogation of, empathy. She approaches the topic with skepticism and curiosity, beginning with the more cynical use of empathy to describe how data mining allows companies to make us feel they empathize with us as they offer us things they think we want. She goes on to visit a courthouse experimenting with justice based on restitution vs. retribution here in the U.S., looks closely at the scientific research on mirror neurons, and interviews students in South Africa about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And she shares stories from her personal life that relate beautifully to the material. I learned a lot from this book, but it also touched me deeply. Take a chance.
A cogent, gorgeous examination of empathy, illuminating the myths, the science, and the power behind this transformative emotion
Empathy has become a gaping fault line in American culture. Pioneering programs aim to infuse our legal and educational systems with more empathic thinking, even as pundits argue over whether we should bother empathizing with our political opposites at all. Meanwhile, we are inundated with the buzzily termed “empathic marketing”—which may very well be a contradiction in terms.
In I Feel You, Cris Beam carves through the noise with a revelatory exploration of how we perform empathy, how it is learned, what it can do—indeed, what empathy is in the first place. She takes us to the labs where the neural networks of compassion are being mapped, and the classrooms where children are being trained to see others’ views. Beam visits courtrooms and prisons, asking how empathy might transform our justice system. She travels to places wracked by oppression and genocide, where reconciliation seems impossible, to report on efforts to heal society’s deepest wounds through human connection. And finally, she turns to how we, as individuals, can foster compassion for ourselves.
Brimming with the sensitive and nuanced storytelling that has made Beam one of our most respected journalists, I Feel You is an eye-opening affirmation of empathy’s potential.
About the Author
Cris Beam is the author of several award-winning books, including To The End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, and Transparent: Love, Family and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers. Her journalism has been featured in several national magazines and on public radio. Beam teaches creative writing at Columbia, NYU, and Bayview Women's Correctional Facility and lives in New York City.
"Cris Beam is an extraordinary writer possessed of a sharp, supple, and deeply generous mind. I Feel You is a triumph of reporting and personal reflection alike." --Meghan Daum, author of The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects Of Discussion
"[Beam's] exceptional intelligence, equally evident in her thinking and her writing, shines light on empathy from extraordinary angles . . . Her clear goal is to empower readers with the knowledge to enact the complicated and varied forms of empathy necessary to navigate modern times." -- Booklist, *starred* review
"An intelligent three-part exploration of empathy's cultural impact . . . Fascinating and well-rounded." -- Kirkus Reviews
"A lively and well-researched look at how humans experience empathy, and why we should all have more of it." -- Library Journal