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4 minutes of silence can boost your empathy for others. Watch as refugees try it out.

We could all benefit from breaking down some of the walls in our lives.

Images via Amnesty Poland

This article originally appeared on 05.26.16


You'd be hard-pressed to find a place on Earth with more wall-based symbolism than Berlin, Germany.

But there, in the heart of Germany's capital city, strangers sat across from one another, staring into each other's eyes. To the uninitiated, it may look as though you've witnessed some sort of icy standoff. The truth, however, couldn't be more different.

This was about tearing down walls between people.


Image from Amnesty Poland.

Amnesty International recently released a video in which they show strangers breaking down barriers with the help of eye contact.

The refugee crisis is a contentious issue worldwide. Reasonable people can disagree about the right path forward in finding homes for people displaced by conflict or economic crisis. What's sometimes missing from this conversation, it seems, is empathy.

But what if we could inject some empathy into that debate? And what if it was as easy as making eye contact?

Refugees sat across from Europeans. In many cases, the two parties didn't even share a language; all they had was eye contact. The organization's theory? That it should be enough.

Image from Amnesty Poland.

The video's a powerful look at what it means to share in our common humanity. The eye contact bit? That comes from psychologist Arthur Aron.

Aron's 1997 study, "The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness," put forth the idea that a bond between two strangers can be created quickly through physical proximity and an exchange of specific personal information. In additional studies, Aron found that closeness and bonding can sometimes develop even more strongly through sustained eye contact.

In the nearly 20 years since publishing, Aron's work — which has often been presented in a sort of "here's how to fall in love in less than an hour" type of way — has seen a bit of an online resurgence and for good reason: It seems to work. Pretty neat, right?

Image from Amnesty Poland.

Refugees and borders aside, there are some related studies that have concluded roughly the same thing: Simply existing and interacting with other people can help you empathize with them.

For example, a 1997 study by Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis suggests that straight people who personally know gay people are more likely to be accepting of gay and lesbian men and women. Further, the more gay people they know, the more likely they are to be cool about everything.

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images.

Basically, these studies confirm the old adage: It's hard to hate what you know.

If you personally know someone from a misunderstood group of people — whether that's based on refugee status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other often generalized factors — it's a whole lot harder to make sweeping statements about that group.

We've all got walls of our own that we wrestle with every day. What's important is that we're always working to tear them down.

So while you and I may not have been in that room in Berlin, there are almost certainly situations in which we, as a society, can benefit from making use of these same tactics in our own lives.

You can watch Amnesty International's video, "Look Beyond Borders," below.


Clarification 11/02/2017: This post was updated to clarify that Aron's 1997 publication did not explicitly discuss his research into eye contact.

Amal Clooney and her husband, George, are stepping up for children fleeing war in Syria.

The couple is planning a multimillion-dollar donation to Lebanese public schools, hoping to help provide a quality learning environment to thousands of students currently underserved "because they had the bad luck of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time."

George and Amal Clooney discuss refugee policy with Prime Minister Angela Merkel and German government officials. Photo via Handout/Getty Images.


"They have been victims of geography and circumstance, but that doesn't mean there isn't hope," the Clooneys told the Associated Press in a statement. "Our goal with this initiative is to help provide Syrian refugee children with an education and put them on a path to be the future leaders their generation desperately needs."

Hundreds of thousands of refugee children have settled in Lebanon, putting pressure on the country's education system.

In response, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) instituted a "second shift" at over 70 public schools.

According to the agency, the extra sessions are staffed by local teachers who frequently extend their work day to ensure that refugee children don't fall behind.

The Clooneys' funds will go toward training those teachers, as well as to providing school supplies, computers, and transportation for the students.

Students at a school for Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. Photo by -/AFP/Getty Images.

The $3.5 million donation is from their Clooney Foundation for Justice in conjunction with Google and HP.

Still, there are limits to what one celebrity couple — even an uber-wealthy one — can do for the world's neediest.

The Clooneys have said the funds will aid 3,000 additional refugee children, but the U.N. estimates that some 200,000 in Lebanon alone are still not receiving an education.

Human Rights Watch has labeled the situation an "immediate crisis."

The world needs to step up with a comprehensive plan for the millions displaced by the conflict.

Then-Prime Minister of Italy Matteo Renzi high-fives a child in a school for refugees in Lebanon. Photo by Marwan Tahtah/Getty Images.

That includes supporting the work that agencies like the UNHCR are doing. More importantly, it includes helping muster the political will to resettle them in safe countries — whether by making it easier for them to reunite with family or by more freely granting visas.

With anti-refugee sentiment running hot in the United States and much of Europe, relaxing rules and opening borders can feel like an improbable lift.

Still, it's critical to take action before it's too late in order for these millions of kids to grow up with the skills to confront a challenging, difficult world.

As the Clooneys recognized, there's more than one way to lose a life.

To help make the world a more welcoming place for displaced children and their families, you can visit and support organizations working to protect and serve refugees globally, including Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee, and the Hebrew International Aid Society.

It's not often you see Batman outside of Gotham City, but here we are. In Lebanon. With Batman.

[rebelmouse-image 19528210 dam="1" original_size="750x391" caption="Image via War Child Holland/YouTube." expand=1]Image via War Child Holland/YouTube.

The photos of children happily playing with the superhero in a Lebanese refugee camp are heartwarming enough without explanation, which is why they recently went viral on Reddit (though the Reddit headline said this was a Syrian refugee camp, it's actually in Lebanon).


But where did they come from? More importantly, is there video?

Oh you bet there's a video.

[rebelmouse-image 19528211 dam="1" original_size="500x281" caption="All GIFs from War Child Holland/YouTube." expand=1]All GIFs from War Child Holland/YouTube.

The video was produced by a refugee-focused nongovernmental organization called War Child Holland and features a real 8-year-old refugee child named Kadar playing with his hero.

Batman gives Kadar rides around the refugee camp on his shoulders.

They play soccer...

...and Batman even lets Kadar win an arm-wrestling contest.

They sing songs around a campfire...

...and fly kites in open fields.

As if the video weren't heartwarming enough, it ends on a seriously sentimental note.

It turns out Kadar's best friend and hero wasn't really Batman at all.

It was his father all along.

The goal of the video was to show just how important the bond between children and their parents can be. The constant stress of war and uncertainty can make it hard to keep that bond strong. That's what makes the work War Child does so important.

"We want to show that fantasy is often the only way to escape reality for these children who are affected by war," wrote Veronique Hoogendoorn, War Child's director of marketing, communications, and fundraising, in a press release. "The work of War Child is needed to help these children process their experiences. 250 million children worldwide grow up in war. We help hundreds of thousands of children with psychosocial support, protection and education."

Millions of people, millions of families, have been displaced because of ongoing war and there's a lot we can do to help support them. Supporting organizations like War Child, the UN High Commission on Refugees, and Save the Children is a great way to give back and give kids who've been through a lot a shot at life.

Watch the video below:

Check out the behind the scenes details on War Child's website.

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Can food change the way people feel about refugees?

Refugee chefs from 25 countries participated in this year's Refugee Food Festival.

For 15 days in June, some of the world's greatest refugee chefs played host to more than 10,000 diners during the second annual Refugee Food Festival.

80 chefs of 25 different nationalities showcased a wide range of dishes highlighting their culture and culinary skills. The big event was an even bigger success than last year, taking stage in 84 restaurants across six European countries. During the festival, each restaurant added new dishes to their regular dining menus and worked with the chefs to create truly unique dining experiences for their guests.

[rebelmouse-image 19529989 dam="1" original_size="750x500" caption="The card reads: "Now more than ever we need to stand with refugees. Add your name to the #WithRefugees petition to send a clear message to governments that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility." Photo by Janou Zoet/UNHCR." expand=1]The card reads: "Now more than ever we need to stand with refugees. Add your name to the #WithRefugees petition to send a clear message to governments that they must act with solidarity and shared responsibility." Photo by Janou Zoet/UNHCR.


The festival wants to use the power of food to help change people's perceptions of refugees.

The Refugee Food Festival is the product of French non-governmental organization Food Sweet Food and the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). Together, they hope to change public perception of refugees, help refugees integrate into the local workforce, and encourage new experiences and interests in other cultures.

"None of us decides where to get born, so it is fundamental to remember the values of welcome and integration, which are strategic values ​​to build the future of our society," said Oscar Farinetti, the founder of Eataly, one of the participating restaurant chains, in an interview with the U.N.

Somali chef Hassan Hassan meets with diners. Photo by Yorgos Kyvemitis/UNHCR.

Mission aside, however, the food just looked pretty dang good.

In Lyon, France, chef Mohammad Elkhaldy, a refugee from Syria, offered up some mouth-watering Syrian dishes.

Elkhaldy at Substrat restaurant. Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Sri Lankan chef Nitharshini Mathyalagan added a number of her home dishes to the menu at Paris' Lulu la Nantaise during the festival.

Mathyalagan in Paris. Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Photo by Benjamin Loyseau/UNHCR.

Ifrah Daha prepared a Somali "healthy meal" for guests at Les Filles in Belgium.

Daha with diners at Les Filles. Photo by Bea Uhart/UNHCR.

Photo by Bea Uhart/UNHCR.

Syrian chef Wesal helped revamp the brunch menu over at Madrid's Elektra.

Wesal meets with diners. Photo by Jane Mitchell/UNHCR.

Photo by Jane Mitchell/UNHCR.

And at It Restaurant in Athens, Greece, Reza Golami served up authentic Afghan cuisine.

Afghan chef Reza Golami in the kitchen of It. Photo by Yorgos Kyvernitis/UNHCR.

Afghan dish man tou. Photo by Yorgos Kyvernitis/UNHCR.

According to the UNHCR, as of June 2017, as many as 65.6 million people have been forced from their homes worldwide,with 22.5 million of them claiming refugee status. A 2016 Pew Research poll found that more than half of Americans believe that the U.S. does not have a responsibility to take in refugees — and that's a problem shared by a number of other countries.

The truth is that without help from welcoming countries, many refugees may never truly find a home again. To help them, it's important to tackle the public opinion problem, and events like the Refugee Food Festival are great ways to do that.

Visit the Refugee Food Festival and UNHCR websites for more information on how you can help refugees.