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Please God Give Me Beer

Concerning Empathy

Posted by badplanmobile on 2010.10.10 at 16:52
Current Location: Hamilton, VA
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Here's a thought I've been having lately: Empathy is wildly overrated. Genuine, natural empathy, such as most people experience, which is considered part and parcel to basic humanity. If you claim to lack it, the assumption is that you must be a horrible, cruel person, regardless of the actual evidence.
My take on empathy is this: empathy and compassion are not the same thing. Even those who know the difference tend to assume you cannot have one without the other. That is not true. Frankly, no one empathizes with everyone. It is only possible to exhibit completely natural, pure empathy for someone you can understand, someone like you. Even then, empathy comes from a self-centered viewpoint. We cannot understand what it is like to be someone else living their own life. We imagine what it is like to be us living that other person's life.
Now, some people can experience empathy for the majority of people. Even I can experience genuine empathy for a few people. But no one, no one, can feel empathy for every other person on the planet, or they're deluding themselves. We can only empathize with people who are like us, because empathy is the ability to identify with and share another's feelings and experiences, and the more unlike others we are, the fewer people we are able to empathize with naturally.
Compassion, however, can be shown to people radically dissimilar to you. Compassion can be shown to people you cannot understand. Compassion is a conscious choice, not an instinctual reaction.
However, many people who experience more widespread empathy seem more likely to deny compassion to those with whom they do not empathize. People for whom empathy is natural are more likely to see those with whom they cannot empathize as unnatural, and therefore their feelings and experiences not worthy of compassion. I am not saying they do this vindictively. It seems to be subconscious, because when empathy is easy and instinctual for you, you do not have to puzzle through and truly consider compassion.
Therefore, I see compassion without empathy as almost inherently superior. Compassion from someone who cannot instinctively understand you is compassion from someone making the effort to try, compassion from someone who recognizes that their experience is not the only valid model for humanity, compassion from someone who has thought it through.
When I tell you I am not a naturally empathetic person, it does not mean I don't give a shit and never will. It means many things, including that I don't feel the same way you do. But it also means, even if I can't feel the same way you do, if you are worth it, I will try, and if I still cannot, I will nonetheless try to help you if you need it.
{Crossposted around FetLife}

Comments:


poet!c!njust!ce
lifeis4foolz at 2010-10-11 22:23 (UTC) (Link)

Interesting..

However I as a sociopath feel neither empathy nor compassion for anyone else. Really though, I don't think that means a thing. It seems humans in present society have some sort of obsession with 'sincerity'. They see the motivation behind something as just as important as the action itself. I disagree. As someone who needs to hide certain character 'flaws' I show plenty of compassion all the time. Who cares WHY I chose to go to med school as long as I'm saving lives?

The problem with people today is they want their cake and to eat it too. Major corporations donate millions upon millions of dollars every year to various charities all for the sake of improving their public appearance and in result, their revenue. Does that bother you? It shouldn't. Does the cutthroat bastard at the head of one of these companies really give a shit about breast cancer 'awareness'? Maybe. Most likely not. If he didn't would it make his donation any less generous, useful and beneficial to the world? No.

So lay off empaths, just because I don't give a damn about you doesn't mean I'll show it ;).
I'm a Space Rockstar
scaramantula at 2010-10-12 07:07 (UTC) (Link)
I don't know... I've yet to really see an empath do something out of "the goodness of their heart." The human capacity for empathy is fairly limited in scope, which you touched on, and I think even empaths use entirely selfish motivations behind compassionate acts. This could just be my own personal bias contaminating my observations, of course. I have been known to assume everyone else is as much a sociopath as I am. :P

I suppose I'm drawing a further distinction between "feeling bad about _____" and "feeling empathy for _____" because it doesn't seem like the two are one and the same. Not in how they're described by sufferers, anyway. A person seems to feel bad about any given thing while empathy is going that much further and really caring and writhing about in imagining what the other person's shoes' fit is like. Or, not using confusing metaphors I made up because I'm tired (lol), One seems to be a frivolous, emotional reaction while the other is a very complex reaction.
The former seems to be the driving force behind many "acts of compassion." This and imitating others, not wanting to look untoward, etc.

That, being compassionate for the sake of satisfying an emotional need, is what I would classify as lesser. It's just so... base, vulgar. :3
poet!c!njust!ce
lifeis4foolz at 2010-10-23 03:54 (UTC) (Link)
I also see my perspective as being somewhat biased since I too seem to assume everyone is a sociopath. That hypothesis has been rejected on more than one occasion unfortunately. Some people really do 'care' and 'love' other people. Because everything I do is for selfish reasons it's easy for me to conclude the same of others- and I'm not saying all empaths are graciously magnanimous because we all know for a fact that's crap. BUT, my point is there IS a reason there is a distinction between 'us' and 'them'. It's not that they don't screw other people over consistently with glee, it is that for them they have 'exceptions'.

People they can't or won't intentionally harm, not because they could 'get in trouble' or be harmed in some way but because they have an irrational attachment that makes them accept hypocrisy. I'm not sure I'm explaining this sufficiently. I suppose what I'm saying is it is that streak of irrational emotion that makes the difference. Also, there are the purest empaths out there who really do fret from harming others, I can't imagine feeling that way.
I'm a Space Rockstar
scaramantula at 2010-10-23 06:35 (UTC) (Link)
This is true, and I was pretty tired when I posted last time lol.
I get what you're going for, though.
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