Posts Tagged ‘Empathy’

Empathy as a source of wisdom

December 6, 2012

I’ve long believed that the best way to understand yourself is to observe other people, and the best way to understand other people is to look inside yourself.   We human beings are not all that different from each other.

This new RSA Animate video by a philosopher named Roman Krznanc is about the power of empathy – the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s place – as a means of self-understanding and as a means of understanding the world.

Click on RSA Animate for more videos.  All the RSA Animate videos are well worth watching, except the one featuring Slavoj Zizek.

The war on empathy

February 3, 2012

This is from Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly’s column in the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle.

Today, I am a rich guy, a one-percenter. … … My late father could not even fathom how much money I make.  I have trouble processing that as well. … …

Bill O'Reilly

Today, the Occupy Wall Street crew and many progressive Americans believe that I am a greedhead, even though they have no idea what I do with my money.  Just the fact that I have it gives them license to brand me as a dreadful “one-percenter.”

The reason that I have prospered monetarily is that I put freedom to good use.  I worked hard, got a great education, paid my dues in journalism, and finally hit it big.  America gave me the freedom to do all those things.  In the past, my achievements might have been celebrated.  Not today.  Now, more than a few folks say I am not paying my fair share to ensure the security of my fellow citizens. … …

… …  I’ve decided that those demanding more of my money for “social justice” are really attacking freedom.  In this country, it is not wrong to prosper.  You should not be demeaned for “having.”

via Bill’s Column.

What I get from this column is a lack of empathy for people who’ve been less successful than Bill O’Reilly, and a fierce anger at anybody who thinks he should feel such empathy.  I think Bill O’Reilly speaks for many Americans, and not just those in the top 1 percent income bracket.   Opposition to empathy is widespread.

The big objection to Justice Sonia Sotomayor during her confirmation hearings was that she said she could identify with people who were victims of racial or sexual discrimination.  During the current Republican presidential debates, the crowd cheered Ron Paul when he said that if somebody could have afforded to buy health insurance and didn’t, he would be willing to let that person die for inability to pay medical bills.  Other crowds cheered executions.  The common feeling, in my opinion, is a push back on claims for sympathy for people in bad situations.

I can sort of understand this, in a way and up to a point.  I don’t like freeloaders.  I don’t like guilt salesmen.  I object when the Haves try to help the Have-nots at the expense of the Have-a-littles, as in the Boston school busing controversy of the 1970s.

But neither do I think of myself as an individual, separate unto myself, whose well-being is due solely to my own merits and not at all to good fortune or to the help of other people.  It is not a question of altruism.  It is not a question of me sacrificing myself for the good of others.  Rather it is that my well-being being is tied up with people around me.

I can’t have a secure retirement income unless everybody has a secure retirement income.  I can’t have snowplows clear my street unless everybody has snowplowing service.  I can’t hope for a good future for my little grand-nieces without hoping for a good future for everybody’s grand-nieces.

Now this would be less true if I were in the upper 1 percent income bracket, but it would still be partly true.  I read an article in the Democrat and Chronicle some time ago about how the wealthiest people in the Rochester area objected to paying for a public water supply.  They reasoned that they had clean water, and saw no reason to subsidize clean water for the masses.  It was pointed out, however, that an unsafe drinking supply helps the spread of infectious diseases, which are no respecter of economic class.

I don’t want to give up what I have—food, shelter, good medical care and leisure to enjoy life—but I wish everybody else had at least as much as I have.  I couldn’t lead a happy life if everybody around me was miserable.

I know, however, that there are those who feel the exact opposite.  For them, having things that other people don’t have is precisely the point.  I’ve seen this attitude expressed on T-shirts.  Winning is not enough.  Others must lose.  The joy of owning stuff, for such people, is that others envy them for having it.  I don’t know what to say to such people, except that to say they have no standing to complain about “the politics of envy.”  Or to suggest that if they lack the ability to imagine themselves in somebody else’s place, they lack a basic tool for understanding the world and are likely to be blindsided by reality.

Click on The One Percent Blues for the complete Bill O’Reilly column.

Click on The Empathy Gap for series of columns on the subject by a Psychology Today writer.  [Added 2/4/12]

Click on Empathy and Compassion for a web site devoted to the subject [Added 2/4/12]