Monday, September 27, 2010


A recent study  concluded that young people today have less empathy than those in the recent past.  Considering how long "Christina and Ali" lasted on America's Got Talent, I find this surprising, but then maybe that was a sympathy issue, not empathy, although the two are closely related.  Or maybe the more empathetic oldsters were voting for them while the less empathetic youngsters voted for the Prince Poppycock, who knows?  [I was rooting for Michael Grimm since my extremely empathetic tendencies are not allowed to interfere with my music appreciation.  The name of the show is not "America's Got Sob Stories"]

I don't recall being very empathetic as a teen or young adult.  I tended to see things in black and white, right or wrong, rather than seeing the gray areas.  As I grew older, I became better able to put myself in the shoes of others and a new dimension to life opened up for me.  The way I see it, being empathetic leads to better understanding of others which facilitates acceptance which leads to less fearfulness and resentment which leads to a less stressful, happier life.

As an example, in 1996 when I first discovered the internet, I was under the influence of what I heard on the news and had a fear of Arab terrorists.  I became addicted to chatrooms and inevitably encountered people online from dozens of foreign countries, including the Middle East.  I avoided the Arabs, Pakistanis, and Indians at first, not trusting any of them, but I soon realized they weren't what I had prejudged them to be at all.  Once my barriers broke down, I accepted them (or rejected them) individually just as I would any person I met in my realtime life.  I found myself doing a complete turnaround and ended up becoming enamoured with Middle Eastern culture.  Even the tragedy of 9.11.2001 did not change this new attitude because I understood that the average Muslim in the Middle East is not preoccupied with hurting Americans.  One less fear, one more year to live--ok, I don't know this as a fact, but sounds reasonable, no? 

A little fear is normal and probably good to have to keep you on your toes, but a person who lets fear color his views and dictate his actions, is to be pitied.   These people have clenched fists, hearts, brains, and---ok, you know.  With everything clenched, there's no healthy flow going on. 

Besides alleviating fears, empathy is also good to develop because it reduces resentment.  You may look at someone getting special treatment, for example, and feel resentful, but have you first put yourself in their place?  Physically handicapped people get the coveted parking spaces and it's annoying when we're circling the parking lot for the third time, but really, would you want to be in their shoes?  When you're able to reduce resentment, you're another step closer to Happy.

Lastly, developing empathy, besides overcoming fears and resentment, may actually become a useful tool for you in personal relationships.  When you can empathize with others and better understand them, you can work better with them.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself liking people more than you used to.  I think you'll even like yourself more too as a result!

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