Saturday, November 20, 2010

Empathy deficit

I think I've figured out what the major problem in this country is.  It's not the federal debt or a a financial deficit -- it's an empathy deficit.  As a society, we seem to have lost the ability to put ourselves in the other guy's shoes. Way too many people seem to think that because they did something, like surviving hard times by shoveling chickenshit (one of the actual examples on C-SPAN this morning), then everyone else should be perfectly capable of doing the same thing. It never occurs to them that maybe not everyone is lucky enough to live walking distance from a chicken ranch that has shit needing to be shoveled.

I've been thinking about this empathy deficit most of the week.  The New York Times ran a piece recently on a program designed to prevent bullying in Canadian schools.  As they headline put it, they're "fighting bullying with babies."  Beginning with kindergarten classes, about once a month educators bring infants into the classroom for the kids to interact with.  The kids are encouraged to see things from a baby's point of view.  Basically, the program is nurturing empathy -- the ability to see life from another person's perspective and to understand what it feels like to be that person.  The program apparently works -- schools that use it have seen a decrease in disruptive behavior, less bullying, and the kids just being generally nicer to each other.  Now if we could only come up with a similar program for adults . . .

C-SPAN began the morning with an open phones segment that focused on extending unemployment insurance benefits.  The latest extension is due to expire at the beginning of December, but the economy is still in the toilet.  People are hurting.  The jobs simply aren't out there.  But is that reality sinking in with the people who still have an income?  Of course not.  Their own lives are still peaches and cream, so obviously the folks staring homelessness and hunger in the face are a bunch of useless slackers just trying to suck off the government teat.  There seems to be an absolute inability to imagine themselves in a different situation, to be able to recognize that the fact they're secure today doesn't guarantee they're going to be equally secure tomorrow, and to consider what life might be like if someone jerked the rug out from under them. 


  1. I don't have an empathy deficit, I pretty much hate everyone and everything equally.

    But there are exceptions.

  2. I have very strong feelings about people who can't put themselves in another's shoes. Those feelings pretty much line up with what BBC said up there.

  3. I have noticed this disconnect with people I know - they just can't understand the reality of what they see and hear on the news. If it hasn't happened to them, then it has no meaning to them (yet somehow these same people are such "good Christians" doing charity work...)

    My sister asctually broke off relationships when her husband was unemployed because there were "friends" who were so callous about it.


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