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Empathy – The paradox and the philosophy

Despite various differences, there is one common thread that connects all of the human beings. We, most of us, feel pain, joy, and a multitude of other emotions in a certain way.

There is an understanding of how it feels under some known circumstances. But do we all feel the same way? A gunshot kills someone. Simultaneously, the death caused by the gunshot comforts someone else. Do we all feel emotions the same way?

The ability to feel what others feel is empathy and its in-depth understanding is not as simple as its definition.

Two zen monks walk down a path of natural scenery and they stop besides a pond. One of the monks looked at the fishes swimming in the pond and said ‘How great time they are having? They look so joyous’. The other monk asked ‘How do you know what the fish feels. You are not a fish’. The other monk replied: ‘How do you know what I feel. You are not me’.

Empathy – The paradox

Can you feel what others feel? If yes, how precisely do you know what they feel?

If no, how do you know your feelings are not identical to the other one’s without feeling it? This philosophical paradox on empathy is centuries old and the answer is not an indefinite one.

There are more conundrums on empathy.

When do you start to empathize? As kids? If yes, do kids have their mind developed complex on a full scale to understand others’ feelings? If no, do they learn empathy while they grow?

If you learn to empathize as you grow, would there be war machines and weaponry, today? If you are born with empathy, why is so much hatred and chaos and not peace?

Maybe, we all aren’t identical? Not one species?

Despite the difference in our ability to laugh or empathize at one’s misfortune, we are all driven by our inherent self-centeredness. If it costs nothing personally, we have the tendency to empathize.

One of the recent experiments conducted- by Dr. Daryl Cameron from Pennsylvania State University and Keith Payne, a psychologist- studied people’s empathetic behavior when they knew about some child refugees from Darfur region of Sudan.

Half of the people studied were told to make a donation if they feel empathetic towards the child refugees whereas the rest could empathize with no financial cost attached. You know the results.

We are one species. What moral good does dead empathy bring?

Empathy, as it should be a natural tendency to us, human beings, driven by a moral reason is a matter of choice. A heinous one.

A white nationalist may not see a white man killing dozens of people with a machine gun the same way as a man from a different ethnic origin that commits the inhuman crime of similar capacity.

The pain is not the same. The choice between the good and the bad yields to a self-soothing, immoral brutality.

The answers to the conundrums of empathy could convolute further and beyond before we realize that we are trying to understand something that we are born with but eventually lost in our journeys of various pursuits.

The attribute of empathy is inearthed when human beings are born, suggest many research.

When infants, six-months-old, were studied, they showed a strong desire to empathize.

Recent studies also suggest that natural traits ingrained in human beings don’t necessarily have to be perpetual. Evolution can play its trick.

Empathy has been declining among the youth over the past 30 years, finds out a research spearheaded by Sara H. Konrath from University of Michigan, Ann Harbor in 2011.

Empathy has been in a freefall since 1980 and the fall is so steep during the last 10 years, finds the research.

Empathy – The philosophy

If human beings are born with empathy, how would it tend to decline? Well, it is. It comes down to what we choose between moral righteousness and bigoted self-righteousness. A matter of choice.

If it doesn’t cost a penny or any ilk of personal loss, there would be compassion and empathy.

The ability to feel others pain in adverse times is a godly trait, we the human beings are born with.

It doesn’t have to be limited to a group of people that one belongs to or declined to another sect of people that one doesn’t belong to. We are one of the same kind.

In modern times, when given a choice, personal gains and self-appeasement outplay our moral strength to share and respect the value of other lives. Developing the behavior of empathy is no different from learning or developing a new skill for success.

It needs to be nurtured.

Challenging times should make people resilient in choosing what is morally right. Choose life. Let everyone win.

Image Source: HBR

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