Tag Archives: empathy
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 . . .
Who do you think of when you read the words ‘broken people’? Do your thoughts ever include yourself? Do you feel empathy, sympathy, compassion, disgust, aversion? I would like to discuss the unique variants of brokenness, and how we as people and society as a whole react.
Did you think of addicts, homeless people, maybe those with some definitions of mental instability as broken people? I did. And my emotional reactions were all across the spectrum, some I’m not at all proud of feeling! I even went to the dictionary and looked up definitions for words like addict, empathy, sympathy, compassion… I realized I don’t live in a dictionary and every definition fit someplace within my perceptions, but not others. So I would like to know what you think, I would like to turn this issue over in my mind, take it out to examine it and see if I can grow in understanding.
Addict. It’s one of the thoughts that came into my mind when I wondered about ‘broken people.’ Is this person addicted to alcohol, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, or maybe coffee? Should it make a difference? If I am approached on the street by a homeless woman asking if I can help, how do I react? Do I automatically start putting restrictions on what help I might offer, or my ability to be compassionate? Do I wonder if this homeless person is an addict, if giving money will help her continue her addiction? And haven’t I already decided what the word ‘addict’ means to me!? Yes, and it had nothing to do with coffee. I feel differently depending on what choices another person has made, I react differently. I want to learn how to not do that!
Maybe I need to examine how I define the word compassion. After much thought I’ve decided compassion is accepting each person for who they are. This is totally different than empathy which is responding to a person’s emotions and opinions with similar emotions and opinions. It’s also totally different than sympathy which means feeling sorry or regretful for another’s suffering.
If I am acting out of compassion I won’t sit in judgment of this homeless woman, but will accept her for who she is. Whether she spends money I might give her on McDonald’s, drugs, or the medical bills that may be the reason she is homeless, doesn’t really matter. Is it not her right as a human being to make her own choices? For sure I won’t be accountable for her choices, but she will be. I don’t get to decide what is a poor choice or what would be a better choice for her — not if I accept her for who she is, accept the fact that she has the right to her own choices, and agree to honor that right for everyone.
I think the person I want to be would be compassionate to all who suffer, and try to cultivate a loving attitude to everyone else—even those who don’t. I am not the person I want to be!
How do I cultivate compassion for privileged people who remain oblivious to the consequences their self-centeredness visits upon others? How on earth do I offer compassion to someone who regards him/herself as superior and who feels no discomfort on account of being oblivious? I’m personally going to have the hardest time with those unable to recognize happenstance may be the only difference between them and anyone else, particularly someone less fortunate.
Aren’t we all “broken” to some degree or other (certainly, myself!) And I need to try harder to interact with others with compassion for their unique variant of brokenness. I have found that many people’s “addiction” is to a state of denial that they are broken at all. This addiction is no less vicious than alcoholism or drug addiction, and, like those addictions, is rarely willingly abandoned. Continue reading
A commitment to all who blog here: at Prairie P & P’s we find the above cartoon sad beyond description. If you found it funny or identified with it, this blog won’t be a place you’ll enjoy.
Tell us what you’re thinking, what you’re wondering about.
At first glance, Sonia Sotomayor would seem to be the ideal Supreme Court candidate for President Barack Obama. A highly respected judge on the prestigious Second Circuit Court of Appeals, she was first appointed to the federal bench by a Republican, President George H.W. Bush. Raised in a housing project in the South Bronx to a family of Puerto Rican descent, she went on to graduate summa cum laude from Princeton University and become a law review editor at Yale Law School, mirroring Obama’s own unlikely yet quintessentially American success story. So Sotomayor would certainly seem to embody the bipartisanship, intellectual prowess and capacity for empathy that Obama has suggested are key traits for this first Supreme Court pick.
Scientists think they’ve found the origins of human empathy in studying orang-utans. They found that laughter is contagious and important for animals that live in groups. “Empathy helps one communicate with social partners … It helps form social bonds and it’s supportive in terms of cooperation.”
Another study examines our potential for violence and finds, “Contrary to popular belief, we are born violent. Until the age of three, our impulses run riot. There is no stopping the urges which come from the emotional centre in our brains.
But as we grow up, we start to develop the part of the brain that allows us to control our aggression – the pre-frontal cortex.”
What causes some people to not control their tendency to be violent? What allows others to remain passive, calm and peaceful? What part does our culture and our experiences play? We know laughter is contagious. Is violence also?
When you read stories like those telling of the people gathering to protest at The University of Notre Dame tomorrow, you can’t ignore the mass hysteria, how much greater the threats of violence are because too often violence creates violence. Does being a part of a group who are furious give permission to behave in ways we might find unacceptable as an individual?