In Part 1 I argued how when taken to the extreme, empathy turns from a liberating tool into a set of shackles.
Now I’m going to drive the point home with great insensitivity, providing a range of points one needs in a debate on the subject matter with one’s friends, soulmates, classmates, rivals and surrounding gurus, who insist that shooting oneself in the foot is a good way to eliminate handicaps.
There Is (A) Reason
Progress can’t be made when inability becomes the norm. The able shouldn’t be confined to the harbor just because some can’t navigate the waters. Those in heaven ought not to plunge from it in order to make everyone else’s hell bearable.
Those in heaven ought not to plunge from it in order to make everyone else’s hell bearable
Those with no money or resources ought not to wish the world’s wealth burned to the ground.
Those with no connections or knowhow shouldn’t be allowed to tear all networks apart.
Those who are healthy shouldn’t get sick to make others feel better.
Those who are able to achieve things ought to set the standard, not trample it.
In other words, let people strive for achievement. The challenged need help, so let’s help them make it through, propelling them upwards, onwards, ahead. The lofty should help by adjusting the setup in such a way that the path to heaven becomes traversable.
And when we’re the ones who need help, let others do the same for us, helping us raise our game. Let’s not make ourselves feel better by demanding that everyone trashes their world to be on par with us (what good is it stewing in collective misery?). Let’s raise our game and leave our worries behind.
I say this all the time: Being overly empathetic is a public peril.
The reason is simple. Extreme empathy overshoots the mark and defeats its own purpose. It cramps up society, tripping over what doesn’t work, making a pitstop out of every single bump and anomaly in order to make everyone feel included. The tendency to go with what works is replaced by the pressure to ‘understand and acquiesce to what didn’t work, to be sensitive to those who suffered failure, accommodating those in the not-know.’
Soon we’re left with a mishmash of perspectives, none of which are dominant, or able to cooperate with each other. Variety gives way to confusion. Pluralism gives way to chaos. ‘Empathy’ becomes the tyrannical anti-dictatorship that destroys functionality in the name of making things work by tinkering with things that work less-than-perfectly. The goal is not to achieve excellence and catch up to the frontrunners, it’s to accommodate everyone and make each and every contribution matter equally.
You think the talented and committed will have much incentive to keep pushing if their efforts are placed on par with the dude who kind of cares, or the person who screws it up all the time? You think teamwork will improve if the goal is to give merit to everyone, no matter what – if our attention is on how everyone feels and not the task at hand?
Empathy is great, and we need it.
Extreme empathy, on the other hand, is nonsense, and stifling.
It Takes Years
Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it didn’t fall in a day either. It took hundreds of years of decadence and millions of acts of misplaced ‘understanding’ to screw things up.
Plus the bubonic plague. But that’s another story.
If we want to make things work for other people, we ought to use empathy not willy-nilly, but with care. Let the weak emulate the able. Let the sick recuperate their way into health, and the fearful face their fears,
and the visionaries guide the way ahead,
and the able-minded carry the torch,
and the able-bodied carry the handicapped so that we can move neither backward nor around the same point, but forward, forward to a new way of doing things, tending to the needs of those who envision the future as well as those who can’t grasp it, and who need a little help with things.
Let the sick recuperate their way into health, and the fearful face their fears…
Let’s also learn to make life easier where possible so that more individuals can join the expedition, contributing in whatever way they can.
In other words, let empathy become something more than a progressive idea. Let it become a tool for progress. A tool that functions.
Being inconsiderate is sometimes a good way to help others, in the long-run anyway, when the approach is applied with reason.
The idea is called Tough Love.
Let empathy become something more than a progressive idea. Let it become a tool for progress. A tool that functions…
Tough love – when applied judiciously – works wonders, creating an apt reality.
We call the process evolution, and it has everything to do with adapting to the challenge, not to the failure. Adapting to what needs to be done.
The Care Bears don’t like that. They push for their consolation notes to those who don’t make the grade, telling everyone to slow down so that the rest might catch up, and pretty soon everyone’s moving to the pace of the catch-up contingent and nothing’s getting done.
How It Goes
Walt Whitman put it best: “The eager and often inconsiderate appeals of reformers and revolutionists are indispensable to counterbalance the inertia and fossilism marking so large a part of human institutions.”
Or, as I like to put it, let the able lead, and let the unable listen, learn, follow, and, yes, lead when they get things straight, reminding said leaders of what happens to those who become complacent.
Too callous and cold? Maybe.
But in the grand scheme of things, on a global scale, in terms of life on earth and the eons during which it has waxed and waned, this is exactly how it goes. The systems that raise their standards, meeting the challenges that face them, make headway.
The systems that stall, on the other hand, making benchmarks out of their inabilities, earn an honorary seat in the Hall of Fossil Fame.
From your annoyingly forthright Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
Part 3 to follow.
PS – as a parting thought, here’s the trailer from The Care Bears Movie, a children’s cartoon that could very well embody the vision of people reluctant to admit that the only love that matters, at least in the macro-perspective, isn’t the one concocted in fairytales but the one that enables people to survive, live and thrive, the essence of which hinges on us rising to the challenge, no matter what. The Care Bears don’t care for any of that stuff, they just want to sell their highhanded moralism, come what may, because they don’t know better, and couldn’t care less about points of view that challenge their worldview. (Let’s hope that the truly open-minded among them have some empathy for them, and that they’ll work with them until the Care Bears of the world get out of their self-righteous, uber-lit, pseudo-moral phase)…