It is known that when taken to the extreme, things become exactly what they oppose, defeating their own purpose. Empathy, as it were, is no exception.
Empathy is a formidable tool with which to understand each other and relate to various points of view. Abuse it and we help no one.
When taken to the extreme, things become exactly what they oppose, defeating their own purpose.
History has great examples to illustrate this, my favorite being the French revolution. In an effort to get rid of despotism, this legendary uprising led to the formation of a democratic republic that became as ruthless and despotic as the despots it had deposed.
Socialism is another great example. In the name of people and equality, the regimes created to forge a better world ended up handling people and money in ways more callous than the capitalist or monarchic regimes they had overthrown.
And capitalism, of course, a system which, in the name of innovation and progress, has syphoned the world’s wealth into the hands of a limited number of organizations.
And feminism, in whose name women cry for equality but strive for power and domination, the proof of which is the immature rage with which statements like this are met (holding breath for outcry!)
Christianity and Islam are also high up on the list (holding more breath!), reacting in an all-too-familiar high-handed manner, their purpose much the same: free people from the shackles of a repressive, unfair world, promise deliverance and absolution from oppression and sin, lay out a glorious heavenly future, something divine to live for, and somehow, at the end of it all, find yourself inside one hell of a power structure, driven by zealots and fanatics, despots and finger-waggers who shape the world according to their holier-than-thou agendas.
Let’s not forget science, which in the name of knowledge and awareness has managed to neglect anything that doesn’t befit its reductionist paradigms, leading to the rise of a very dry and mechanic way of life.
Being empathetic is not only more satisfying in moral terms, but also conducive to progress and survival … Yet when taken to the extreme…
The latest revolution to join the self-defeating ranks of overcompensation is Empathy. The ability to feel for another being’s plight, to understand and accommodate its point of view.
It turns out that helping others and relating to their given plights leads to the creation of a sounder world. Not just in theor,y but in practice.
We’ve always been empathetic (humans are wired that way) but have recently taken it up a notch. Through arduous, potent, scientific investigation, plus a healthy dose of know thyself, we’ve become exceedingly aware that being empathetic is not only more satisfying in moral terms, but also conducive to progress and survival.
Yet when taken to the extreme by any person, people, or culture in general, empathy becomes disadvantageous, if not detrimental altogether.
Simple. If we empathize with others, rearranging the world to suit the needs of those who don’t feel right, we create a kinder and more inclusive organizational dynamic.
So far, so good.
But if we continue being empathetic willy-nilly, with no sense of logic or pragmatism, acting on a moral imperative, or an ideological creed, we’re bound to end up with a world structured around disorder, disease and inability, the dynamics of which determines our progress.
In other words, we run the risk of playing to the tune of the out-of-key notes rather than to the harmonies, eventually forgetting what a halcyon note sounds like (sublime). We make order by tending to so many outliers, we have no cohesion, direction, or core, which renders us disorderly, all with a pinch of self-righteousness.
It starts slowly, surreptitiously. The leaders are pushed back and forced to modify their behavior to cater to the stragglers. The healthy are forced to act in ways that won’t make the sick feel too bad about themselves.
Thus dis-ease becomes part of the norm, around which we shape our new standards. It’s not ok to use language freely anymore, it may disturb someone’s pride. We can’t use force on anyone or anything, including people caught in the act of crime, it would be uncivilized to do so. Everything has to be done in proportion, not excessively. We must always mind the other person. We can’t say anything that might hurt one’s feelings.
If we continue being empathetic willy-nilly, with no sense of logic or pragmatism … we’re bound to end up with a world structured around disorder, disease and inability
And the downturn begins…
Controlling racism morphs into thought policing. One cannot say anything without offending someone and getting harassed, skewered and sued for it.
The spirit of innovation is choked by excessive regulation. One can’t sneeze without a permit and signature.
Catering for the meek or the different obligates an entire society to walk on eggshells. We don’t want to say anything untoward or do anything that fails to acknowledge everyone’s presence. We must operate on the level of the weakest link. We’re not allowed to strengthen that link because doing so would offend his or her condition. We’re supposed to take it down a notch, to the point where the link doesn’t strain, and keep it there, moving at the link’s capacities.
Then there’s the need to control junk food and eat healthy, a healthy impulse in itself, which has gradually morphed from a common sense initiative designed to curb excessive and unhealthy eating into a regime of organic neurosis, every calorie measured and every bite part of a grand nutritious equation, the keeping of which is so stressful that it harms our health.
This leads to extreme amounts of stress.
Stress leads to regimes designed to reduce stress.
Stress-reducing regimes lead to more stress, turning stress into the sine qua non of modern society.
What’s more, people are forced to cater to the needs of everyone else without even knowing them (the age of service — we love it, and love to love it, but) we must also smile all the time, and share our feelings at will, even if we don’t want to, because that’s what “civilized” people do.
Empathy, our precious means of helping one another, turns from a liberating tool into a set of shackles
We can’t shout, can’t frown, can’t show inappropriate emotional outbursts, no matter how upset we are.
If we do, we risk anger management classes, or social services programs, or jail.
Thus, empathy, our precious means of helping one another, turns from a liberating tool into a set of shackles. Sand in the machine, grinding our spirit down. Forcing us to tend to what doesn’t work rather than to what does. Making us obsess over handicaps while neglecting the leads. Order, health, aptitude, efficiency, they take the back seat, and the world begins to lag, going round in loops, endless loops and circles around the points of contention between those who can and those who cannot.
If you disagree, I’d love to hear about it. Better yet, I’d love to read an article on it.
From your loving Spin Doctor,
Eyes open, mind sharp.
Part 2 to follow
PS – as a parting thought, here is a clip from Anger Management, a comedy on the perils of having everyone subscribe militantly to a sense of propriety that is noble and kind only on the surface.