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By nature, I worry about our dwindling "natural resources" -- our vanishing old growth forests, our acidifying seas, our increasingly drought-stricken arable lands.

This morning it dawned on me, with the incredible pain still gripping my mind and soul, the more the human fallout our recent national tragedy comes to light,

-- that too often we are dealing with a dwindling "national resource" of human empathy too.  

[See Tea Party: and the Food Stamps debate, for evidence of this claim.]

We may or may not, be hardwired to be empathic creatures -- but without it, human society can become one very ugly place. A place without help; a place without hope; a place built upon the bricks of anger and fear.

'Spectrum of empathy' found in the brain

by Rowan Hooper, -- Sep 18, 2006

Ever wondered how some people can "put themselves into another person's shoes" and some people cannot? Our ability to empathise with others seems to depend on the action of "mirror neurons" in the brain, according to a new study.

Mirror neurons, known to exist in humans and in macaque monkeys, activate when an action is observed, and also when it is performed. Now new research reveals that there are mirror neurons in humans that fire when sounds are heard. In other words, if you hear the noise of someone eating an apple, some of the same neurons fire as when you eat the apple yourself.

"The mirror system is a particular form of Pavlovian association," says Keysers, referring to the classic behavioural experiments where dogs were trained to associate food with the noise of a bell. "Each time you crunch a potato chip you hear yourself crunching the chip, and now when you hear someone else crunching it activates your own action neurons."

Every time you hear another child cry in hunger, if you are an empathic person, you will feel a twang of hunger too.

An empathic person, given the choice, will soon say "we should do something about that."  

Sadly, many politician-type persons have learned to short-circuit that very human impulse ... of "putting yourself in into another person's shoes."  

THAT often costs money. And Politicians are all about -- NOT spending money, to solve ACTUAL Human problems.

Know the Limits of Political Empathy

by Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm, persuasivelitigator -- Nov 05, 2012

I might be exaggerating a little, but not much. America's political attitudes, as many commentators have noted and polling confirms, are more polarized than ever before in modern times. That polarization that some call a new "tribalism" in our political world, is not just a result of a defined set of policy preferences. Instead, it is a clash of increasingly incompatible worldviews, with each side literally not able to understand the other. The empathy that allows one to say, "I see where you're coming from," before adding, "but I disagree" is in sharp decline. [...]

Empathy Across the Aisles: The Research

One very basic way to measure empathy is to start with the human tendency to apply our own visceral states to others: If we are thirsty, we are more sensitive to another's thirst. Same for heat, cold, and other forms of comfort. But based on O'Brien and Ellsworth's work, there are some important differences in who benefits from these projections. The pair showed that participants avoid applying their own visceral states to the evaluation of others who are described as hailing from the opposite end of the political spectrum. In two studies focusing on cold and thirst, the University of Michigan researchers found that research participants followed the well-documented pattern of applying their own cold or thirst to the evaluation of others, but not when those others were represented as having opposing political views. That indicates that we’re less likely to extend basic empathy to those who are different, not just in demographic or observable terms, but different in beliefs as well. “All else being equal,” the authors conclude, “knowledge of another person’s politics should not influence how cold or thirsty one thinks he or she is, but it does.”

National Tragedies like the unimaginable one unfolding in Newtown Connecticut, can short circuit the short-circuits, but only for a short time.  

Only until the shock wears offs and those "tribal" anti-empathetic barriers are restored again ... until the political interests get up, shake it off, and go back to their respective boxing corners.

Only until the bell rings, and the game of politics resumes again ... as if nothing really happened.  Again.

It is time to heal America. And so we must say to every American: Look beyond the stereotypes that blind us. We need each other. All of us -- we need each other. We don't have a person to waste. And yet for too long politicians have told the most of us that are doing all right that what's really wrong with America is the rest of us. Them. Them, the minorities. Them, the liberals. Them, the poor. Them, the homeless. Them, the people with disabilities. Them, the gays. We've gotten to where we've nearly "them"ed ourselves to death. Them and them and them. But this is America. There is no them; there's only us. One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty, and justice, for all.
--  "A Place Called Hope" (July 16, 1992)

I feel your pain.
-- Bill Clinton response to AIDS activist Bob Rafsky at the Laura Belle nightclub in Manhattan (March 27, 1992)

Some "political tribes" tend make use of and appeal to this human facility of empathy, more more naturally and practically than other tribes and coalitions.

Empathy is a tool;  Empathy is a thermometer;  Empathy is a gauge of progress.  One that often falls way too short, of our very appropriate human goals and ideals ...

How to Test Your Empathy
Empathy comes more naturally to some than to others.

by Guy Winch, Ph.D. in The Squeaky Wheel, -- Mar 15, 2011

When We Should Use Empathy

Once we have gained practice in using the empathy exercise we could apply it in a variety of situations. Here are just a few of many possible scenarios:

1. Whenever we seek to understand someone better.

2. When we find ourselves arguing unproductively with a spouse or a significant other.

3. When we have trouble connecting emotionally to the plight of a loved one.

4. When we want to calm our tempers and manage our emotions.

5. When figuring out how best to complain effectively.

Empathy comes more naturally to some than it does to others. However, by taking time to truly paint a picture of what it is like for the other person and imagine ourselves in their place, we will gain valuable insights and forge deeper connections to those around us.

I would propose that there is indeed an Empathy Spectrum, that we all fall somewhere on, due to our own unique combination of nature and nurture.  It's not a fixed characteristic.  It's something that can change and grow, over time.  Or wither away.

It is the very essence of our human condition.  It is also a "human resource" that often runs far too low ... over time.  We each alone, only have so much to give.

Want Empathetic Children? Take Joy in Empathy
Empathy develops from the experience of empathy -- not from suffering.

by Maia Szalavitz in Born for Love, -- Feb 16, 2010

The most important of these is nurturing, responsive parenting.  Babies whose needs for touch, comfort and soothing are not met regularly by one or two primary caregivers will have difficulty developing empathy -- just as babies who aren’t exposed to speech will not be able to learn to speak.

Empathy, then, develops from the experience of empathy -- not from suffering.  We tend to think of empathy as something that comes from “knowing what it’s like” to feel pain -- but the origins of empathy are in shared nurture.  People are most empathetic when they feel calm and safe:  if your own needs aren’t being met, it’s hard to think of someone else’s. [...]

If you want empathetic kids, the best thing to do is to be an empathetic person and show kids why kindness matters.

Empathy is also a choice. It is a mindset. It is the force of human will, that builds bridges, instead of bombs.

Empathy is a choice. One we get the opportunity to make again and again, with the dawning each new day.  To feel someone else's pain -- or not. To share in the struggle, or to withdrawn from society and erect an invisible wall, to protect "your own."

Empathy is a choice, at least until that deep well of human emotion runs dry, from far too many days without replenishing rains.  Of common human decency.  Of life restoring human compassion.  Of simple, small acts of kindness.

It's this "drought of empathetic emotion" that some political interest groups excel at generating, fostering, and normalizing ... as if all other points of view are devoid of merit ... all other humans, especially those of the empathetic kind, are simply obstacles in their political way.

Obstacles to be bullied into fear and submission. By whatever means feasible.  

"Don't trample on them," is the only empathic emotion they can currently see.

They are stuck on the "fear-end" of the empathy spectrum.  But their circuit breakers may be currently off.  They have kids too, you know.  Kids, whom presumably, they also wish to protect, from random acts of violence.

Such is the beginning of the struggle, otherwise known as finding "common ground," before the entire island of Humanity, slips into the sea.

Originally posted to Digging up those Facts ... for over 8 years. on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 03:03 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It seems to me that empathy is a strategy to (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Andrew F Cockburn

    support your own survival... Sounds weird but I was just reading the "Gift of Fear" and part of what stimulates the almost instantaneous ability to judge a situation, a person or an intent is to use empathy... According to the author that allows you more accurate danger sensing. Denial of the human-ness of another human doesn't allow you to see any danger they may pose or enjoy the benefits that they may bring. Falling into paranoia is damaging your ability to see the real world and is not life enhancing.  

    So it is inevitably a lack that may lead to you finding yourself in similar situations as those you have no empathy for.  To me the idea many of these unempathetic cling to is that those they have no empathy for aren't the same kind of being as them. It is no better for any who refuse to recognize the human in even a nut job like the shooter at the school... It is a fall into the dark side... a programming glitch brought on by either faulty equipment or bad input.  To better understand that fall into the dark side allows us to determine thier threat quicker and prevent disasters and save them from themselves...

    Where does the unique "I" live in our programming which we share based on our culture, household, town,state, country, world? Some of the programming is laid in place before we even remember.

    Great diary.

    Fear is the Mind Killer...

    by boophus on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 11:24:53 AM PST

    •  mind-gripping fear and paranioa (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Andrew F Cockburn, yawnimawke

      is a long dark journey.  

      I've seen it grip, and waste away too many lives, of those close to me.

      You may be onto something boophus.  The common thread was losing the ability to empathize with those offering help.

      That deep-well of pain, begins with the casting away,
      of all well-meaning offers, as suspect.  

      As hidden-agena-ridden.  Trust no one, is the surviving principle.


      Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
      -- Here's how.

      by jamess on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 11:33:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The Mayors of America (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Andrew F Cockburn, yawnimawke

    have already started the National Discussion.

    They have to deal with its local fallout nearly everyday.

    Coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns
    by jamess -- Dec 14, 2012

    Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
    -- Here's how.

    by jamess on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 11:25:32 AM PST

  •  An interesting correlation, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, yawnimawke, jomsc


    Liberals who are more politically engaged score high on an empathy scale. Conservatives who are politically engaged score lower.

    This question, from the empathy scale, might make a politically-engaged conservative go all apoplectic just reading it:

    I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.
  •  Empathy (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, rosarugosa, mythatsme

    It's really not that hard ...

    [ Anjana the chimp shows off her parenting skills...with a puma cub. ]

    Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
    -- Here's how.

    by jamess on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 03:21:40 PM PST

  •  I recommend Steven Pinker's book: (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jamess, Garrett, cany

    The Better Angels of our Nature. He discusses the decrease in violence over the past few centuries and the growth in empathy.

    It is unlikely that most people 400 years ago would have felt more than a passing pang on hearing about something like the CT shootings. There were routine massacres in this country- usually of Native Americans or blacks, but also immigrant groups- and almost nobody seemed to mind. If you didn't know anyone involved, you didn't waste any time grieving.

    That has changed. We are almost all aware of our interconnectedness. John Donne would not have bothered to wnite his essay about "no man is an island" today- the sentiment would have been vapid.

    There is hope for us: the pain that we feel is evidence that we are growing as a people.

  •  one of my best and worst qualities is my (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    empathy. It is very high. I very rarely find it difficult to relate to people on their own terms. It's a quality that I am sometimes proud of (it makes me a very good manager) and it also hinders me (i am not able to stop crying this weekend because of the sheer pain i feel in my heart. I am not a parent but I can't help being distraught over what happened on Friday). I realize, reading your diary, that what you say is true. I have a very hard time understanding one of my relatives inability to "feel" for someone who is a minority, with children, living on welfare. I can't understand why they don't see how hard a life that is. How no one wants to live like that. I find it difficult to put myself in my relative's shoes. It is much easier for me to feel what life is like for that minority mother. But when I try to find common ground with my relative, I can't. I try very hard to understand their frustration but I just can't. I often get angry because I don't see how they cannot see my point of view. How they cannot "feel what I feel". We come from the same cloth. It's a barrier that thwarts much needed understanding. If one of us could cross that bridge, our relationship would not be strained or rather like walking around on thin ice.

    I have saved some of the articles you have linked and I thank you for digging into this subject. It will hopefully help to understand and possible help in breaking through the wall that I have run up against when trying to cross that bridge. How I can completely feel the pain of a stranger and not that of relative is a perplexing issue for me. Thanks for the diary.

    Earth: Mostly harmless ~ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (revised entry)

    by yawnimawke on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 03:40:24 PM PST

    •  thanks for sharing, yawnimawke. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I find the struggle difficult too -- finding common ground.

      a lot depends on one's personal "definition of" my tribe.

      I find most conservatives care deeply about their own social/familial circle.

      They will bend over backwards to help you, if you are "one of their own."

      That's one place to start,
      by connecting progressive values, to the hardships within their own social group.

      Some people do not expand the circle, until life throws them a tragedy,
      where they are suddenly on the outside, dependent on the compassion of others, to get through it.

      Or on the safety-net of FEMA, for a more recent example.

      It is in the heartache of such life-rending events,
      that narrow world-views,
      often widen.

      To be more inclusive of the social life-boat idea.

      Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
      -- Here's how.

      by jamess on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 03:50:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  you are dead on about the "taking care of one's (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        own". My relative would one of the first people to help me out if I called for them to do so. This is what gets me about not being able to understand them. They will look out for anyone of us in the family but anyone outside of the family are on their own. In the 2008 campaign, when then Senator Obama talked about pulling yourself up by the bootstraps as long as they were your own boots, or however he put it, that I totally related to in regards to this relative.

        But I agree with you. A need will have to be meet through a government agency in order for them to see how others have to struggle in order for them to understand. And another frustrating thing about it is that this relative is a bible thumper too. I, otoh, am not. It trips me out!

        Again, this is a helpful conversation though. I have passed the articles on to a couple of other relatives, who like me, have found this particular relative a enigma that we are trying to break.

        Earth: Mostly harmless ~ The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (revised entry)

        by yawnimawke on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 04:19:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  religious people "get me" too. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          If they actually lived by their Sunday ethics

          through-out the rest of the week,

          Empathy would be their strong suit,

          instead of their cherished "self-reliance."

          Feed the hungry, Help the poor,

          Love other people -- Do not hate and despise them.

          We all have are flaws, and are fallible, by religious standards.

          So we are extolled not to judge others;  rather we should walk a few miles, in their shoes.

          All the more reason, to lend a helping hand,
          to those in need.  Not shun them as hucksters, and thieves.

          The Bible has a word for this "compartmentalized" judgmental religious world view. They're called Hypocrites.

          And their self-righteousness, does not excuse,
          their stone-hardheartedness.

          Such is the defining trait of a Hypocrite.

          aka, the complete lack of Empathy to those in need.

          Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
          -- Here's how.

          by jamess on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 04:40:24 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Beware of false equivalence, though. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    As uncomfortable as it may seem to the fair-minded, it's important for our society to grapple with the fact that just because we have a two-party political system that has become dramatically polarized, it doesn't mean that each "party" is equally to blame. The polarization and tribalism is asymmetrical.

    The GOP has become increasingly desperate to stay in power. Even if the "compassionate conservative" schtick of the Bush Administration was just a ruse, it attracted and honored empathetic Republicans. Now, at this point in our country's evolution, any pretense of compassion is gone. This election cycle, the GOP actually attempted to persuade voters that hatred of certain people, viewpoints, what have you, was justifiable and appropriate. People who normally may be more empathetic were encouraged to believe myths and conspiracy theories about Pres. Obama or "liberals" in order to win their vote.

    Seeing your neighbors (fellow American citizens) and government as actual enemies to be dismissed, de-legitimized, despised, and even "destroyed" at various levels, isn't good, to say the least. Lack of trust and paranoia has been encouraged by the right-wing.

    This isn't fun.

    •  the idea of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      "manifest destiny" comes to mind.

      much misery and inhumanity has been foisted on "others"

      under the guise of American Exceptionalism.

      These are simply rationales

      to dehumanize others.  To turn off natural empathy.

      And yes, the GOP "Compassionate Conservatives" excel at it, this doublespeak.

      with phrases like Democracy is on the March,

      and rescuing them from their backward third world ways.

      Empathy is often one-side;

      some have it, more than others.

      Just check how they invest society's funds,
      to see where their real values are.

      Isn't it time to fix the Filibuster?
      -- Here's how.

      by jamess on Sun Dec 16, 2012 at 06:26:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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