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Social Movements for Good: How Companies and Causes Create Viral Change by Derrick Feldmann

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Chapter 2Creating a Movement…Through Empathy

James Coan

Professor, University of Virginia

When we think about why people get involved in social movements, it's hard to ignore the empathy that we have for the inequalities and challenges we see and feel when we see others suffering. It goes back to the makeup and emotional behaviors of the brain. One individual who has been at the forefront of this work has been Professor James (Jim) Coan of the University of Virginia.

Jim began his work in the early nineties watching how couples and individuals have conflict with each other. He observed conversations, tones, and discussions between individuals who were at odds with one another because of marital or partnership disputes. What was amazing about the research Jim was a part of was coming to see how couples who fight learn how to handle conflict with each other well and those who do not. He realized all couples would fight, but it was the unspoken emotional support provided to each other that helped bring the couples through their challenges and disputes. He realized that everyone has negative interactions, but those who are good at defusing the situations are those who stick together and eventually increase their happiness. For the most part, he saw these individuals who were closely tied to each other interact in unexpressive ways. Not that these individuals would immediately say “Oh, my spouse is very upset,” they would just act to make it better. For the most part, the individual ...

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