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Boosting the Empathy

4/8/2013

Recently, I watched a very interesting video, a drawing interpretation of a TED talk given by Jeremy Rifkin. He explains that human beings are very empathic creatures and that, essentially, we are better than we think we are. He points out that it is in human nature to be empathic and understanding of one another and that this is the mechanism that enables us to understand the behavior of our fellow human beings.

Research led to discovery of, so-called, mirror neurons, which enable us to experience other peoples’ feelings and perspectives, to feel what other people feel by mimicking their neural responses to the same situation.

This could be how we developed moral values. Some moral values are learned from parenting, education and etc. However, some moral values could indeed be inferred from our understanding of each other’s behaviors. We know what would cause pain and distress for us, so, by inference, we do not want to inflict the same situation upon someone else, as we would, emphatically, feel a part of their pain and distress. Most people do not enjoy inflicting bad feelings onto themselves, so if we can, through empathy, feel what others feel, we wouldn’t do the same for others.

This is the theory. In practice, it often is not the case. It is as if our empathy needs a little push, a boost.

I walked by a man eating an old piece of bread. He seemed tired and sick, and I felt very bad for him. I thought of how it would be nice to buy him a proper meal. Then I thought of how many other people probably feel the same. It would not bring shame to him. He knows he is poor, he knows others know he is poor. So, why not help him?

In the video I mentioned above (The Empathic Civilisation), Jeremy Rifkin talked about a similar situation to this.

It is as if we are afraid of being scorned by the rest of the community. Likely, the rest of the community feels the same. Seems like we need a bit of a push. We need to realize that there is more good to us than we are sharing. If one person decided to help a beggar in such a way, regardless of the opinion of the community, perhaps others would see that there is no reason to be afraid to do the good thing.

How do we know we are doing the right thing? The good thing? Well, through empathy. We can feel a part of what others feel, we can sense it through their facial expressions, through their body language, and through their words and tone of voice. We know it is a good thing if the person feels better and if we feel better with them.

Each of us strives toward the state of being satisfied, of feeling well. If we all strive to that, and if we all feel a part of what others feel, one needs not be a mathematician to deduce that to get to that state faster, we all need to be heading in the same direction. It is not only about how we feel, it is also about how others feel. If we have this shared emotion, we might have a better chance of becoming a united intellectual and emotional species.

Symbiosis is a very powerful natural mechanism. Maybe we should learn from nature and accept the way it works. Maybe we could live together in a symbiotic manner: helping each other to advance as a whole.

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