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RSA ANIMATE: The Power of Outrospection


Roman Krznaric affirms that the 20th century was the century of introspection. This was a period when the sciences and the arts told us it was necessary to investigate ourselves. To find the answers to the greatest question in life, or simply to try doing so and be happy. 


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Psychoanalysis, the study of dreams, was driven by this need to examine ourselves. However, the alchemical principle states otherwise. Whatever is up is down, and whatever is inside is outside. Krznaric proposes the term “Outrospection” to characterize the ethics needed in the 21st century. 

The notion of outrospection implies a few things. We should discover who we are and what it is that we want to do with our lives by looking outside of ourselves. Not just at the world but also the lives of others. Therefore, define our place as per empathy and not egoism. 

Krznaric has a unique understanding of empathy. We often say that empathetic people “feel others’ pain” as if it were their own. But empathy can lead us to the concept’s trap. To confuse a feeling with an action. The point is not that empathy is not important, but that we have greatly misunderstood it.


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He states empathy is a dangerous concept since it has made revolutions possible. Every rebel feels the emotions of others profoundly. But they fight to change the living conditions of others. The empathy that is generated through outrospection will not work if it is not set in motion through action. 

He refers to George Orwell’s life as an example of a “hero of empathy”. He was born to a wealthy family. This is where he knew the rules to prepare the perfect cup of tea. He worked in the United Kingdom’s Oriental colonies in India. This enabled him to face a culture that was completely foreign to his own. He made friends, had many adventures, and acquired a great deal of material to tell in his stories.


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One of the best examples of empathy in Orwell’s work is found in his essay “Shooting An Elephant”. Orwell tells us about his days as an officer in rural Burma. He comes across an elephant who has escaped his owners and is creating havoc. Our empathy is tested when the officer’s dilemma is presented. The locals do not respect him, but nonetheless need him, since the elephant has already killed someone. In turn, our empathy also sides with the elephant, who we see grazing calmly, as if he were a giant wise cow, after his destructive trance. 

Krznaric states the museums of the future will be places where we will learn through empathy. We won’t read about and lament the harsh working conditions in the factories of Northern Mexico. The experience of the museum will consist of learning about making a pair of Nike shoes, or making an iPhone during a long workday. In the museum, time could be reduced to a mere 15 minutes. Afterwards the visitor could receive a symbolic payment of 2 dollars.

Being empathetic is in no way an achievement. Liking a photograph depicting a disaster on Facebook does not make us an activist. If outrage is not channeled it becomes a social cancer, the guilt of a class paid for with forced charity work. True empathy has the power of transforming the world because it begins with an individual that dares to rebel against his own prejudices and notion of compassion. He can get that leap and really put himself in someone else’s shoes. That leap has made the world change slightly, but perceptively.


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The following article is derived from the accompanying video with Roman Krznaric. It is provided as an additional resource for your reading convenience.


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