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Empathize With Caution

‘Empathy is biased: people tend to feel for those who look like themselves. It can incite hatred and violence—as when Donald Trump used the example of Kate Steinle, a woman murdered by an undocumented immigrant, to drum up anti-immigrant sentiment, or when Islamic State fighters point to instances of Islamophobia to encourage terrorist attacks. It is innumerate, blind to statistics and to the costs of saccharine indulgence.’ ~ THE CASE FOR COMPASSION, NOT EMPATHY

A great review (and premise), which I agree with in many ways. I speak as a psychology graduate who opted for the critical path. I took more than the mainstream classes, and had really good teachers who encouraged healthy and robust skepticism of all positions, especially popular ones. They encouraged me to look for that extra bit of information that might shed light on any given theory or axiom in order to move things forward. My educational foundations were solid, designed to support a spherical viewpoint, teaching me how to not be afraid to be critical of mainstream and/or popular viewpoints.

Bearing this in mind, let me say with this with confidence: empathy, although crucial in certain occasions, is tricky. As things stand, it gets abused by the left and the right — by religions across the board — by all kinds of groups and tribes looking to rally their troops and win the day through public outcry and momentum.

The trick is to not fall for it. Empathize with caution. There are people out there fighting for our attention, using our emotions and goodwill to their own selfish ends. Not everyone merits sympathy. Let’s be discerning and informed, not pawns in political games, or pinballs in the latest social fads. Weigh the information, process the data, think before (re)acting.

And whoever tells you that being critical of empathy makes you a bad person, show them the zealot door and wave them through it. Then go back to what you were doing — weigh the situation, formulating your arguments with reason, making a positive difference.

In the end, no one likes a fanatic, no matter what side of the aisle he or she or ze is on. Trigger-happy and too-easy-to-trigger have too much in common.

As the reviewer puts it: ‘Empathy is easily exploited, marshalled on either side of the aisle to create not a bridge but an impasse of feelings. In a time of post-truth politics, [Paul Bloom’s] book offers a much-needed call for facts.’

I feel you, Economist! You make sense.

From your socratic Spin Doctor,

Eyes open, mind sharp.

For The Economist’s article, click below: