Empathy: is it over-rated?

Empathy: is it over-rated?

– is empathy the social glue that holds us together?
– Paul Blum – Professor of Psychology at Yale University – has wriiten a book called: “against empathy – a case for rational empathy”
– Barack Obama: is reported to have said that the biggest deficit in the world is the empathy deficit
– empathy definition: experiencing the world as someone else does (he calls this cognitive empathy); others use it to describe good & love

Blum believes the following re empathy:
– empathy is terrible to make informed moral judgments
– sympathy (David Hume & Adam Smith – philosophers) – their definition of sympathy is how the term empathy is used today
– compassion – love of others/kindness to others without putting yourself in their shoes – this, he believes is the best thing in the world
– he believes fMRI scans show empathy and compassion “light up” different parts of the brain
– he believes many of us believe that people with “high empathy” are “good” & people with “low empathy” are bad
– he notes that this is wrong & makes it very difficult to help people – particularly if you are in a health-related helping profession – a therapist , dr, or nurse who suffers with their patient is often unable to help
– Blum argues the best Dr, nurse or therapist care for their patient, but do not suffer along with their patient – those that do suffer along with their patients often “burn out” very quickly
– he argues also that empathy is “very biased” towards those who look & sound like us, to those who are attractive, compared with those who look different
– he also says that empathy contorts moral reasoning the same way that racism does
– empathy is also innumerate – it is easy to feel empathy for one person, but difficult to fell it for a hundred or a thousand people
– he discusses also how it benefits an animal to have huge, baby-like eyes to elicit human empathy than a suffering person from a different race
– empathy is used by aid agencies who use pictures of attractive children
– empathy is “weaponised” to attack other countries
– he believes it is best to step out of our feelings & ask: what is the fair thing to do? What is the right thing to do? [to apply rational analysis – to do a cost-benefit analysis – rather than feelings which can be exploited/manipulated by others]
– empathy can be used to galvanise support by talking about the victims [think WW1 & the atrocities of the Germans against nuns, churches, children etc.,]
– Blum argues we should insist politicians be rational with the public – & insist upon it – particularly when they resort to the use of stories to elicit empathy for so-called victims – he believes we should insist politicians (of all political stripe) show us facts & how a particular policy will make the world better | he argues the same should be applied to charities – don’t look at pretty pictures, but instead review data
– he believes empathy is often used as a tool to motivate some desired political action
– but it can be used for good actions or violent actions
– he notes that in the hurly burly of life, it is often times easier to consult with/& respond to our gut, our feelings rather than being rational
– he argues empathy is a “lousy way” to make policy – & it usually involves making a choice to feel empathy for one over the other
– he argues being a parent does not exclusively resolve around empathy – picture here the anxious child – what is required is to step back (not join in their feelings – but rather understand them) & figure what is the best thing to do – therefore parenting is about “getting some distance” & not “getting tangled up” in their feelings – this is based on love & having their greater interests in mind

Source: LNL ABCRN | broadcast date: 14 March 2017


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