Thursday, September 15, 2005

Empathy and Compassion

Yesterday I read a post on the Martian Anthropologist about empathy. He defines empathy and talks about how we see empaths as people in Science Fiction movies understanding the feelings of others. Someone commenting on this post said that it's a good thing. Who could live if we felt the pain of everyone else?

It's a good question, that. However, if we can't ever feel the pain of another, how can we live? We do selectively turn off our ability to empathize with another because we are often overwhelmed. In crisis, people often do get overwhelmed and then suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, survivor guilt and a host of other problems when they go through a major trauma of the scale, say, the people in New Orleans are going through. They do empathize with the others in their situation. People watching, people helping and people sending money are also often overwhelmed because they too can see the trauma.

I am frustrated by the posts of people who want to inflame those who do empathize by saying that these people in New Orleans should have done something. They hide their ability to empathize and feel that pain in their outrage and anger that people could end up in a situation like that. If someone else can get in a situation like that, maybe they aren't that safe. That's scary and they don't want to be scared, so they react in anger and provoke anger from others.

If we do that too often, hiding our empathy behind our anger or our ignorance, we loose the ability to feel the pain of others. If we can't empathize with another, it is much harder to be compassionate and to treat others as we would want to be treated. As a country, as a world full of humans we need to embrace our ability to feel pain and to hurt, not only for ourselves but for others.

To be human, we must be able to feel pain. We don't need to seek it out as a punishment, but when it comes our way, we need to be let ourselves feel it and move on. We need to share those moments when others feel pain and recognize it for what it is. We must have empathy. In having empathy, we cultivate compassion.


Blogger The Commentator said...

It's rather difficult to feel empathy and ultimately compassion when everyone is busy yelling and falling into hysteria over everything. If it's not the right, it's the radical left out throwing big words around. No one fully understanding the full implications of what they are saying. Words like 'impeach', 'racism' and 'genocide' are words with weight. Irresponsibly tagging them to people does no one justice. From my observations, we use powerful words so often and so frivolously that we untwittignly render them meaningless. Let's get the hang of this first! Good post.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Daedalus said...

Umm... your commentator sounds like a typical righty- one who denies that such things as racism exist. The thing about language is that many people don't understand the nuances of language. Anyone who doesn't speak another language can never fully understand his own. Words have degrees. "Racism" literally means thinking one race is superior to another. However, on another level, it represents a disdain for poverty stricken folk who are mostly black. The racism we saw in all of this was the difference between a black "looter" and a white person "trying to survive." It's usually not a conscious racism.

Empathy and compassion are not something people like Bush & Co. feel. They run everything like a faceless business, hence the humanitarian response they gave.

Bottom line is that PEOPLE make up the world, not markets, not money, not companies. When we cease to remember this basic fact, we become savages. Psychopath is the scientific term.

8:47 PM  

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