Empathy and Compassion
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.