How outrospective are you?

Outrospection is about shifting from introspection to a more external focus. Roman Krznaric labels the 20th Century as the Age of Introspection with the Freudian revolution popularising “the inward gaze, especially the idea of solving personal problems by delving into the inner, unconscious world of our childhood, dreams and forgotten memories”. [1]

Do we spend too much time self-absorbed, obsessing on first world problems? Extending our empathy seems an appropriate antidote for excessive introspection.


Outrospection is about empathising with others. Both Roman Krznaric and Jeremy Rifkin refer to the biological basis of empathy, based on the presence of mirror neurons. These brain cells enable us to detect emotions in others and experience the same emotions as those we observe or interact with. V.S. Ramachandran calls mirror neurons “Gandhi neurons” claiming that they enable a direct connection between our brains[2].

Jeremy Rifkin’s RSA Animate video, The Empathic Civilisation, is probably my most watched video. He calls us Homo empathicus as empathy is at the foundation of our sociality. Why is it not more evident, and why do we frequently see barbaric human behaviour? According to Rifkin:

We have to rethink the human narrative…If we are truly Homo empathicus, then we need to bring out that core nature, …if it is repressed by our parenting, our educational system our business practice and government, the secondary drives come, the narcissism, the materialism, the violence, the aggression.

We have an increased capacity for empathy. In earlier centuries, when most of us were limited to confined geographies, the people down the road, or over the hill could be our enemies. With the advent of improved global communication it is easier for us to identify with people from all corners of the globe and to communicate with them through social media. An impressive number of us will respond with donations when we see our fellow humans suffering from the results of natural or man-made disasters.

Roman Krznaric echoes these thoughts. With reference to climate change, he suggests that we need to extend our empathy across space, to those poorer economies that will be (and are) being hardest hit by the impact. And we must further extend empathy across space to future generations.

In the words of Jeremy Rifkin.

Is it possible that we could extend our empathy to the entire human race as an extended family, and to our fellow creatures as part of our evolutionary family and to the biosphere as our common community? If it is possible to imagine that, then we may be able to save our species and save our planet… If its impossible to imagine that, then I don’t see how we are going to make it.

Are you an empath? Here is a quiz from the Greater Good Science Center to help you decide.

[1] from Empathy: A Handbook for Revolution, Roman Krznaric (2014) page xxiii

[2] This page from the Being Human Conference includes chapters of a video on mirror neurons.

1 comment

  1. Well Peter, some interesting components of Empathic…I have found that different people have different goals, and their own cultural template that people have can get in the way of progress…it is difficult to get a consensus on our sustainability as a human race. Economics plays a huge part in our life, and the media seems to play into this, with big global companies, who have the resources to market their products, which affects our environment in which we live in. Hence the change in the mind-set of some companies who are now practicing sustainability. A great article and very informing -this has made me think deeply about my thought processes, thank you Peter for this self reflection in which emerged out of reading this.

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