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In this thought-provoking book, the acclaimed author of Our Inner Ape examines how empathy comes naturally to a great variety of animals, including humans.
Are we our brothers' keepers? Do we have an instinct for compassion? Or are we, as is often assumed, only on earth to serve our own survival and interests?
By studying social behaviors in animals, such as bonding, the herd instinct, the forming of trusting alliances, expressions of consolation, and conflict resolution, Frans de Waal demonstrates that animals–and humans–are "preprogrammed to reach out." He has found that chimpanzees care for mates that are wounded by leopards, elephants offer "reassuring rumbles" to youngsters in distress, and dolphins support sick companions near the water's surface to prevent them from drowning. From day one humans have innate sensitivities to faces, bodies, and voices; we've been designed to feel for one another.
De Waal's theory runs counter to the assumption that humans are inherently selfish, which can be seen in the fields of politics, law, and finance. But he cites the public's outrage at the U.S. government's lack of empathy in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as a significant shift in perspective–one that helped Barack Obama become elected and ushered in what perhaps could become an Age of Empathy. Through a better understanding of empathy's survival value in evolution, de Waal suggests, we can work together toward a more just society based on a more generous and accurate view of human nature.
Written in layman's prose with a wealth of anecdotes, wry humor, and incisive intelligence, The Age of Empathy is essential reading for our embattled times.
"An important and timely message about the biological roots of human kindness."—Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape
De Waal (Chimpanzee Politics), a renowned primatologist, culls an astounding volume of research that deflates the human assumption that animals lack the characteristics often referred to as "humane." He cites recent animal behavior studies that challenge the "primacy of human logic" and put animals on a closer behavioral footing with humans. Based on the studies of mammals, from primates to mice, de Waal proposes that empathy is an instinctual behavior exhibited by both lab rats and elephants. But de Waal's aim isn't merely to show that apes are transactional creatures with a basic understanding of reciprocity but to reveal that the idea that humans are naturally calculating, competitive and violent is grounded in a falsehood willfully and selfishly perpetuated. Throughout the book, de Waal illustrates how behaving more like our wild mammalian cousins may just save humanity. His contention, colored by philosophical musings and fascinating anecdotes of observed emotional connections between animals, argues persuasively that humans are not greedy or belligerent because animals are; such traits are far from organic or inevitable but patently manmade.