From the book,
"Although the fundamental capacity for empathy, which is
part and parcel of mutual recognition, is an innate human feature, we
need to receive sufficient empathy early in life to be able to attain
and maintain true mutuality as well as empathic connection with
ourselves and others.
"Most of us have not had
empathy early in life"
us have not had sufficient empathy early in life, and for many of us
this means that our capacity for empathy gets stunted, both towards
others and towards ourselves. The healing force that allows us to
recover our lost capacity to connect is, once again, empathy. Empathic
connection with another is an almost indispensable condition of psychic
liberation. Although some individuals are able to choose strategic
discomfort on their own, for the most part, the challenges of the
journey are such that they require the presence of empathic others to
sustain it. Without empathy, the likelihood of retreat into our comfort
zone increases. With it, we are more capable of opening up to the
discomfort and the painful emotions which await us on the journey.
That empathy per se is healing has become progressively more accepted.
Being heard, in full, is one of the most profound experiences we humans
can have, and has a transformative effect that more often than not we
donít anticipate. Even a few minutes of this experience can sometimes
transform seemingly intractable situations. Even after years of
practicing and teaching empathy, I still find myself astonished at the
immense power of it. In moments of intense conflict with someone, for
example, I can still forget that the entire conflict can be dissolved in
a few empathic exchanges, as has so often been the case."
Beyond the Limits of Empathy
as a reliable guide to action? David Brooks, in his recent article "The
Limits of Empathy,"
suggests that empathy is no guarantee that caring action will take
place. Participants in Milgram's famous 1950s experiments willingly
inflicted what they thought were near-lethal electric shocks despite
suffering tremendously. Nazi executors early in the war wept while
killing Jews. And yet those strong feelings didn't stop them. Why does
this happen? "
Who Benefits From Empathy?
When we humanize our enemies, our resilience grows
and we suffer less
"In order to be in empathic dialogue, I must be able to imagine being
the other person. It's a deepdisciplinefor
me. It requires me to overcome the righteous pleasure of writing off the
other person; of making myself ever so slightly superior, more human,
more caring; of keeping my world safe and protected by eschewing others.
I come face to face with the undeniable reality that this person who did
this act is human just as much as me. I plunge into that other world,
that other and different experience that gave rise to that which is
mysterious to me. Through that, I find them, I find their heart, even if
they have lost it."
"It's so much easier to analyze someone's shoes than to walk in them
"I have quoted her often, because this simple sentence captures, for me,
the profound and slippery distinction betweenempathyand
analysis. However compassionate our analysis might be, it remains
external. We see from the outside. If we explain anotherís behavior
through knowing or imagining their personal history, or we do so by
imagining what human needs could lead to the behavior we struggle to
understand, we maintain some distance from their own lived experience.
We donít fill in the gap between the history and the present, or between
the need and the particular choice of strategy to meet that need."
The Missing Empathy for the Right
In the social circles in which I find myself, and in much of the Left
media, conservatives are regularly referred to as stupid (at best),
backward, uncaring, or unevolved. At every opportunity I have,
especially in my workshops, I invite people to look at what might be the
underlying values behind conservative positions, to imagine how a decent
fellow human could arrive at such opposing views. I wish I could
contradict Helen Smith, but my experience only confirms what she says."
He talks about how people respond with empathy to victims and how it has
It seems to me that empathy doesnít see victims or turn people into
victims. That it is sympathy that sees victims. So if people are talking
about victims, they are talking about sympathy.
It seems to me that with empathy, we see/hear the experiences, feelings
and needs of all parties in the relationship. And if we foster a culture
of empathy we support an empathic stance for and between all people.
I wonder what you think about that?
i think that what empathy can offer people who have suffered a lot is a
sense of not being alone, of being understood and accompanied. it's an
art form. many people do sympathy, many people in NVC circles do very
distant empathy which is also awful.
for me it isn't quite the form. it's about allowing ourselves to be
affected sufficiently by another's suffering that we can remove the
barrier between us, so we can resist the temptation that many of us have
to distance ourselves from the suffering so we can continue to have our
life, or, conversely to make them feel better so we don't have to feel
standing with someone who has suffered in the full helplessness of not
knowing how to help and yet being fully there, in open heart and loving
understanding, that's the best that empathy has to offer.