Why We Need Humane Education: Study Shows Empathy Can Reduce Racism

When we ask people to list the best qualities of being human, empathy is always included. We find some version of proverbs like "Never criticize a [person] until you've walked a mile in his moccasins" a familiar part of our culture, and all the major world religions offer a variation of the Golden Rule as a basic tenet. Empathy is an essential quality for doing the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the earth, and now a new study suggests that empathy can play an important role in reducing racism.

Whether we want to or not, many of us still exhibit "automatic" or unconscious types of racist behavior. According to Greater Good, this study, published in a recent edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, demonstrates that "by simply putting ourselves in another person’s shoes, we can significantly reduce our unconscious biases—and significantly improve our real-world interactions with people who look different from us."

And those "who look different from us" can be extended to nonhuman animals and to people with beliefs and values different from ours.

In addition to helping us learn more about what influences people to take positive action, studies like this one provide useful evidence for humane educators who need to data to help make their case in bringing humane education into their schools and communities.

~ Marsha

Image courtesy of Drew Tolson via Creative Commons.

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