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Saturday, February 6, 2010: Empathy

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully  communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

          I consider it a good thing to be empathic to other people’s feelings. The awareness is an inherent sensitivity.  Studies have shown that even small children have some innate (hard-wired) capacity to interpret and respond to the pains or struggles of another.  

        Empathy should be further developed by the family or society, through emphasizing the way humans share similar hopes, dreams and fears.  How one behaves towards others, how one addresses the needs of others, can definitely be learned and reinforced by those around us.

          Never under-estimate the way this innate capacity can be adapted and molded through life experience toward extremes of either an egocentric/ethnocentric awareness or an expanded awareness. One person grows up to divide the world into rigid compartments of Us versus Them; another sees a personal connection and responsibility to all creation. We don’t have to be one or the other of these extremes, but do take personal responsibility by assessing whether your current life choices actually move you toward the person you want to become.

         In the midst of busy schedules, take time and reflect. How do we become more humane if we are not becoming more empathic toward our fellow human beings? If we rear children to compete in an Us versus Them world, to be sensitive only to the needs of those most like themselves, what kind of a future do we create for our children and grandchildren?

         I worry that television can emphasize the Us versus Them attitude, encouraging the selfish parts of human nature, instead of placing value on constructive, sensitive interaction. Polarization of politics and religion serve only to block empathic understanding and communication. Can our communities, our family or our own lifestyle counter these effects with compassion, tolerance and love?

          Any sensitivity can be encouraged or repressed. I hope to address psychic empaths in a later posting (because being too sensitive can create its own problems).  For now I would be happy if empathy was seen as a value essential to a successful, cohesive society.      

Posted on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 09:24AM by Registered CommenterThe Skeptical Mystic | CommentsPost a Comment

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