Our Global Empathic Embrace?

Jeremy Rufkin tells us in this piece that our collective empathic response to the disaster in Haiti has been remarkable.  Interestingly, our ability to empathize is greater when such events are caused by nature over those caused by mankind.  Rufkin tells us, “the response by people all over the world has been immediate. Governments, NGOs [Non-Government Organizaions], and individuals are mobilizing relief missions, and social websites are lighting up, as the collective human family extends a global empathic embrace to its neighbors in this small Caribbean nation.”

Rufkin continues, “Yet, when faced with similar tragedies that are a result of human-induced behavior, rather than precipitated by natural disasters, we are often unable to muster the same collective empathic response.”  Rufkin explains that when human behavior imposes suffering, we tend to shrug our shoulders and say “That’s human nature, you can’t change it.”  And thus our response is considerably less as a result.  Rufkins asks us to question these assumptions and consider that they may be false.  Rufkins reminds us of the discovery of mirror neurons – those that help us with empathy.  He reminds us that our empathic abilities have steadily grown over time.  He contends, ” the extension of empathy to our species as a whole and to the other creatures that cohabit this planet with us” is an acheivable goal.

I think Rufkin is on to something. 

You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one . . .



Filed under Progressive Ideals

11 responses to “Our Global Empathic Embrace?

  1. Interestingly, the DSM-IV TR contends that trauma produced by other humans is more likely to result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, vs. natural events. This distinction is more important than it is often considered…

  2. wicked

    Because we cause some of the human-induced atrocities through the wars we start, it seems our empathy is lacking considerably, at least those of us who are only virtually a part of it. Those who plan the invasions and expect flowers to be tossed to the invaders would definitely be living in a virtual world.

  3. tosmarttobegop

    Nature can not be controlled human acts can be.

  4. Zippy

    I think when it comes to wars (particularly those supported by the same country), a dehumanization comes into effect. This particularly true when the Middle East conflicts are involved. I also suspect some people take their sports metaphors too seriously. Go Team!

    Those of the particularly cruel tend to believe, in one way or another, that those grubby low-life Other-nation people are somehow made from different DNA or something, and surely had it coming.

    It’s also easier to imagine it could happen to them. Empathy requires putting yourself in their place.

    Of course, if you’re Pat Robertson, you simple say God did it!

    • wicked

      “Those of the particularly cruel tend to believe, in one way or another, that those grubby low-life Other-nation people are somehow made from different DNA or something, and surely had it coming.”

      Because they’re taught to think like that. Most people who join the service do so believing they’re there to make things safer. Sometimes it’s true that our armed forces go into other countries to help save the people. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always turn out that way. Iraq is the best example. But the brainwashing they undergo desensitizes them. Many still have the empathy, buried deep inside, but there are those few who never had it to begin with.

      And then there’s the Republican party and their followers… 🙂

      • In my work, I am starting to see people who have PTSD symptoms that will last for a long, long time. These folk are stuck in between what the military needs, and their own personal needs. These are some very, very sad stories, I can tell you that much…

  5. This story from the front page of our local newspaper goes to your comment about the people you are seeing, the sad stories of coming home from and adjusting to the atrocities of war.

    Army sees suicide rate rise among combat vets


    • Thanks for the excellent link.

    • wicked

      Sadly, too many don’t seek help or manage to hide their demons and aren’t counted and recognized as needing help. There’s still a stigma attached. At least the army and the others are trying. I fear it will take a couple of generations to correct.

      OTOH, it’s sad how anti-depressants are commonly prescribed to anybody and everybody these days, without the push for counseling that’s needed to go along with the meds. Listen to the commercials for those meds, especially the parts that say some can lead to suicide. We haven’t yet advanced enough to understand the mind/brain to be able to prescribe the correct medication, except by guessing.

      And after reading the story from the link, I could use a few of those anti-depressants.

      • Therapy with meds is not always needed, but clearly the literature shows, very consistently, that the best outcomes derive from medication + therapy. When we’re talking about depression, the therapy of choice is cognitive/behavioral therapy — according to the applied research literature.

  6. I don’t know when we forgot that ‘no man is an island,’ but it allowed selfish people to be acceptable. The collective human family can’t allow that.

    No man is an island, entire of itself;

    Every man is a piece of the Continent,a part of the main;

    If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,

    As well as if a promontory were.

    Any man’s death diminishes me

    Because I am involved in mankind.

    And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls:

    It tolls for thee.

    John Donne