If you would like a chance to choose Shalom Readers (for adults) books (or would like to nominate someone else to choose), please contact Amanda Bleichty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World, Jamil Zaki
Empathy is in short supply. We struggle to understand people who aren’t like us, but find it easy to hate them. Studies show that we are less caring than we were even thirty years ago. In 2006, Barack Obama said that the United States was suffering from an “empathy deficit.” Since then, things seem to have only gotten worse.
It doesn’t have to be this way. In this groundbreaking book, Jamil Zaki shares cutting-edge research, including experiments from his own lab, showing that empathy is not a fixed trait—something we’re born with or not—but rather a skill that can be strengthened through effort. He also tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, fighting for kindness in the most difficult of circumstances. We meet a former neo-Nazi who is now helping to extract people from hate groups, ex-prisoners discussing novels with the judge who sentenced them, Washington police officers changing their culture to decrease violence among their ranks, and NICU nurses fine-tuning their empathy so that they don’t succumb to burnout.
Written with clarity and passion, The War for Kindness is an inspiring call to action. The future may depend on whether we accept the challenge.
Refuge: How the State Shapes Human Potential, by Heba Gowayed
As the world confronts the largest refugee crisis since World War II, wealthy countries are being called upon to open their doors to the displaced, with the assumption that this will restore their prospects for a bright future. Refuge follows Syrians who fled a brutal war in their homeland as they attempt to rebuild in countries of resettlement and asylum. Their experiences reveal that these destination countries are not saviors; they can deny newcomers’ potential by failing to recognize their abilities and invest in the tools they need to prosper.
Heba Gowayed spent three years documenting the strikingly divergent journeys of Syrian families from similar economic and social backgrounds during their crucial first years of resettlement in the United States and Canada and asylum in Germany. All three countries offer a legal solution to displacement, while simultaneously minoritizing newcomers through policies that fail to recognize their histories, aspirations, and personhood. The United States stands out for its emphasis on “self-sufficiency” that integrates refugees into American poverty, which, by design, is populated by people of color and marked by stagnation. Gowayed argues that refugee human capital is less an attribute of newcomers than a product of the same racist welfare systems that have long shaped the contours of national belonging.
Centering the human experience of displacement, Refuge shines needed light on how countries structure the potential of people, new arrivals or otherwise, within their borders.
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