Figuring out what empathy is and what it does is not as simple as looking to the lexical definition and instantly becoming an expert; it takes exploring empathy through different lenses and using personal experiences to truly get a good grasp as to what this empathy thing is all about. I too am on my own journey exploring empathy. I am looking at how it is currently being used, through the social media platforms that exist in this digital age, how it has been used in the past, through the lens of historical characters in fictional novels and authors of philosophical writings, and all along the way, how I have personally used and seen empathy used, through my every day experiences.
Empathy is a puzzle, an inherent compilation of emotion, logic, and experiential learning working together to get the best sense of another persons’ true feelings. One thing I have learned is that no person lacks uniqueness and that fact is not an “empathy stopper”, but rather a huge contributor in the desire to explore empathy. We yearn for connection- something to bond over and share, a place where two (or more) human experiences overlap. We find this through empathy. We take our own experiences, along with the perceived experiences of others and work our way towards a better understanding of one another, leading to a better connection. It is an unavoidable phenomena, for empathy is inherent in us as human beings, but why even try to avoid it in the first place? I shall not take an Ockham’s razor approach to empathy; instead, I will continue the journey towards deeper human connection and work to develop my empathic abilities and shape the way empathy is used in society.
Within this blog, you will find a post referencing Adam Morton, who writes on the differences between empathy and pseudo-empathy and the struggle with trying to empathize with those who commit atrocities and are much unlike ourselves in his work “Empathy for the Devil”. Within this post, I argue that Morton’s guidelines for empathy are far too strict and drawing a hard line between empathy and pseudo-empathy is erroneous. I believe empathy to be a real, attainable and developable skill possessed by human beings, and I argue that there is no such thing as pseudo-empathy, what Morton describes as merely feeling what you think you would feel instead of actually understanding what the other feels, and rather that we all vary in our empathic abilities , but what we feel is not wrong or fake, but a varying degree of connection to the other person depending on these abilities.
Living in a digital world, one may continue the search for deeper connections through the use of technology and wonder whether this is the right thing to do. Is empathy limited to face-to-face interactions, or does it know no bounds? Within this blog, a post about the impact of social media on our empathic abilities will also be found. I discuss the massive social media response to the Paris terror attacks in 2015 and argue that the “digital age” we live in is actually helping us further develop our empathic abilities. I reference a contrasting opinion from cultural analyst Sherry Turkle, who believes that technology is taking away from our empathy and human connections and argue that she is misinterpreting the effects of social media because it actually exposes us to a much bigger social network that keeps us in the loop and allows us to practice empathy with more people than ever before.
If you are searching for a concrete example of empathy to follow, a post responding to Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman will be found in this blog sequence and I will discuss how rather than accepting that there are concrete examples of empathy, looking at popular “empathy exemplars” through a critical lens will provide more insight into developing your own emphatic abilities. Having read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird prior to Go Set a Watchman, I could not ignore such drastic changes in characters such as Jean Louise Finch and Atticus Finch. I discuss how these character changes impact society in a negative way by first lessening the beneficial impacts brought by To Kill a Mockingbird, which highlighted issues of race and social justice and provided a shining example of how to stand up against it, and then by providing no exceptional lessons in morality from characters in Go Set a Watchman.
Atticus Finch, the promoter of empathy and beloved protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird is shown to be highly hypocritical in Go Set a Watchman; this change in character brings confusion to those exploring empathy, for the once exemplar of demonstrating empathy can no longer be looked to as such. This portrays the dynamic nature of empathy and is just another example of why empathy deserves a much deeper investigation than looking just to its lexical definition. One empathy exemplar, even one as popular as Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, is not enough to grasp a complete understanding of empathy, especially independent of the empathy exemplar’s other actions that may deter us from thinking they deserve to be an empathy exemplar at all. Empathy is dynamic and its roles change depending on the context, but the very purpose of empathy- bringing us eye to eye and allowing us to connect- remains unchanging and should not be limited due to prejudices or any other outside factor.
Empathy has played many roles. In its “philosophical heyday” in the transition from the 19th to 20th century, “empathy had been hailed as the primary means for gaining knowledge of other minds and as the method uniquely suited for the human sciences” (Stueber). Now, empathy is not only explored through philosophical inquiry, but also by psychologists by the same methods used for exploring the empirical sciences (Stueber). We explore empathy in so many different ways; and throughout this blog I explore few of all those that exist. I hope you will find my explorations of use to you and that they will help you continue your journey towards deeper connections .
Atticus Finch Teaches His Daughter Scout the Best Lesson in To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. Perf. Gregory Peck and Mary Badham. Law Offices of John M. Phillips, 2014. Youtube. Web. 10 Nov. 2016.
Connected, but Alone? Prod. TED2012. Perf. Sherry Turkle. TED. TED Conferences, LLC, Feb. 2012. Web. 20 Oct. 2016.
Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1960. Print.
Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print.
Sober, Elliott. “Why Is Simpler Better?” Aeon. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2016.
Stueber, Karsten, “Empathy”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Web. 01 Nov. 2016.
Images/ Video/ Audio Sources:
Empathy Definition Screenshot: http://www.bing.com/search?q=define+empathy&src=IE-TopResult&FORM=IE11TR&conversationid=81E030EBEF7240BBB3120A9F02F8A136
Human Puzzle Silhouette Image: http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=empathy&view=detailv2&&id=0D24FDBA70A6579CB7B4483FB643B98CFE95C180&selectedIndex=132&ccid=aUZz7zzK&simid=608012150208072157&thid=OIP.M694673ef3cca7a8719f9ae2182888d9ao0&ajaxhist=0