Monday, May 27, 2013

Does Empathy Produce Poor Moral Decisions? I Think Not!

In the May 20th issue of the New Yorker, Paul Bloom argues that empathy can lead to irrational decisions that are "parochial" and "narrow-minded". He concludes that, "a reasoned, even counter-empathetic analysis of moral obligation and likely consequences is a better guide to planning for the future than the gut wrench of empathy."

However, I agree with the point of view expressed by Michael Zakaras in his blog post, The Case Against the Case Against Empathy, which appeared on the Huff Post World on May 16th. Zakaras reminds us that empathy is more than just a gut reaction; empathy involves cognitive processes similar to imagining and perspective taking.  As Zakaras notes, empathy "requires careful thought, self-awareness, and real listening."

Zakaras continues, "But to truly empathize is not easy. In this sense Bloom is right: we're more likely to do so with those who look and think like we do. So rather than dismiss empathy, why not commit ourselves to practicing it more deliberately and more often, and expanding our spheres of empathy to those who are not just different but who challenge some of our very own moral foundations?"

I agree strongly with Zakaras. We need to practice and deepen our capacity for empathy. And, we must also use the understanding gained from empathy to choose and act wisely. As my colleague Vaughn Keller taught me, compassion is empathy in action.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

I Love This Story: College Commencement Speaker Emphasizes Empathy

I love this story!  Empathy can fuel motivation. When combined with passion and persistence, wonderful things can happen! College Commencement Speaker Emphasizes Empathy - The Hoya