Empathy for Bullies

As most people know, bullying has been a serious issue for many years now. While I am not necessarily looking to stop bullying through my research project, I am looking to examine the causes behind it. In seeing these motives, I hope to answer the question of whether or not people can empathize with bullies. Despite the fact that these bullies do some terrible things, perhaps they deserve some empathy in addition to shunning and disapproval. There could be some factors, such as the way a bully was treated growing up or some traumatizing experience that leads to the negative acts a bully commits. I understand that this topic is fairly similar to the question Adam Morton poses of whether or not we can empathize with those who commit atrocious acts, but I am looking to take a different approach on the topic, looking more at school aged kids than older people. Especially with the incredible advance in technology and social media use, this issue is as pressing as ever with younger people, and I feel like it will be a fitting topic to explore. Furthermore, I feel that this topic poses a controversial question that can only be well-answered with ample supporting evidence. Some of the sources that I will consider using are cited below.

External Sources:

Brank, Eve M., Lori A. Hoetger, and Katherine P. Hazen. “bullying.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science, vol. 8, 2012., pp. 213-230

Jolliffe, Darrick, and David P. Farrington. “Is Low Empathy Related to Bullying After Controlling for Individual and Social Background Variables?” Journal of Adolescence, vol. 34, no. 1, 2011., pp. 59-71

Moon, Byongook, Hye-Won Hwang, and John D. McCluskey. “Causes of School Bullying: Empirical Test of a General Theory of Crime, Differential Association Theory, and General Strain Theory.” Crime & Delinquency, vol. 57, no. 6, 2008., pp. 849-877

Prasad, Ron. “Empathy and Compasion for Bullies.” Empathy and Compassion for Bullies. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.

Warden, D., and S. Mackinnon. “Prosocial Children, Bullies and Victims: An Investigation of their Sociometric Status, Empathy and Social Problem-Solving Strategies.” BRITISH JOURNAL OF DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY, vol. 21, no. 3, 2003., pp. 367-385

When Can We Feel Empathy?

Pretend you are a murderer. I am assuming that most of you are not, and I would go as far as assuming that most of you would even have difficulty pretending you are. This is because as a common person, you find it extremely difficult to understand why someone would kill another person. Now imagine you are someone who is struggling to survive so you shoplift a store to put food on the table for your family. While this is also wrong, you can probably understand why someone would do this even though it is inherently wrong. So why can you put yourself in one situation but not the other? Such a phenomenon is presented in my three following blog posts about a person’s ability to empathize with someone who has done a misdeed. To answer this question, I would like to rephrase my question in a way that hopefully helps you to understand more about empathy after reading the three blog posts.

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To what extent does a situational difference between an audience and a person that we hope to empathize with hinder an audience’s ability to empathize with this wrongdoer? In simple terms, according to Christian Happ’s Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, empathy will make people act more favorable towards good people and less favorably towards bad people. In these following three posts, I will define, as clearly as I can, my own answer to this question. I will first oppose the opinion of an author who claims that while people cannot fully empathize with those who commit atrocious acts, they can at least in part understand the motives behind these acts that have essentially no relevance to their lives. I will then give an example of this phenomenon with a man who commits a heinous act and explain why it is so difficult to empathize with this person. Finally, I will give a counterargument to this thesis with a famous book character that seemingly takes a turn for the worse from one book to another. This will help show that there is in fact a barrier that we as an audience can pass through and empathize with a person. In order to understand more about these following blog posts, I will now introduce them a little bit more thoroughly.

My first post examines the way that Adam Morton’s Empathy for the Devil explains the extent to which people can empathize with those who commit atrocious acts. Morton ultimately argues that despite a false sense of empathy that people may try to feel for a person who commits these acts, it is extremely difficult to find similarities with this person and therefore, empathize with such a person. While I argue that Morton’s argument is largely correct, I do not believe that people can even go as far as pretend that they can empathize with someone who commit more sinister offenses.

Such a case in seen in my second post about a man named Zach Davis who was fired from a job for a Twitter post that dehumanized the black people in Baltimore, comparing them to the apes in The Planet of the Apes. While the man was simply expressing his opinion about a social issue, this act of racism is unforgivable for many people. This is seen in the person that fired Davis from his job as a sheriff. Unless you are a person who has made this kind of mistake, it is tough to empathize with this man whose life was severely changed for the worse. Much of the conflict in being able to identify with Davis is that there are few people who feel the same way that he does. In contrast, a case where there is less difference between personal experience and a wrongdoer makes it significantly easier to empathize with this person.

My final post takes the opposing viewpoint of the previous two, examining Atticus Finch’s character in Go Set a Watchman. Atticus Finch is a man known for his role as the man who attempted to change everyone’s mind about racism in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. In Harper Lee’s ‘sequel’, Go Set a Watchman, Atticus’s character changes significantly, at least on the surface, and many To Kill a Mockingbird fans are deeply saddened by the racist qualities he exhibits. I argue that because Atticus is in an environment where people are racist, he seems to exhibit the qualities of the mob. However, with further examination into his character in Go Set a Watchman, he does not share the same opinion that others in the novel do about black people. If people can understand that Atticus Finch is at worst acting in the way the people around him are acting, they can understand his situation and empathize with him rather than bashing his seemingly horrid transformation.

Christian Happ’s Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking puts empathy in terms of how people are generally able to empathize with the protagonist in the game and are more likely to be violent towards the villain. The user could choose which character he or she wanted to play as, so when the user chose the protagonist, s/he was willing to beat up on the villain. However, when the user chose the antagonist, it was harder for them to want to beat the protagonist. This analogy helps us envision why in the context of my three blog posts, why we are able to empathize with some people and not with others. I am not saying that people such as Zach Davis are villains, but people oftentimes associate the atrocious acts they commit with villains rather than hero, so it is much more difficult to empathize with them. I hope my three blog posts will help you form your own opinion about how when people can generally empathize with others and when they find it more challenging.

Works Cited:

Happ, Christian, André Melzer, and Georges Steffgen. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. October 2013, 16(10): 774-778.

Atticus Finch: A More Realistic, Yet Not Destroyed, Man

Atticus Finch is a well known character as the lawyer who defended Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (TKM). In this novel, Atticus’s daughter, Jean Louise “Scout” Finch is the narrator recalling her experience of her father defending a black man accused of rape when she was six years old. At this time, she sees him as a role model for doing this seemingly generous task along with making enough time for her despite being a busy man (TKM). Go Set a Watchman, by Harper Lee, without question changes the character of Atticus Finch. He goes from being a heroic figure in Scout’s eyes to a racist as Jean Louise is now twenty six in the latter book. This drastic shift in Atticus Finch’s character suggests perhaps there are some factors under the surface revealing that Atticus’s character may not have changed as much as the disheartened To Kill a Mockingbird fans think. There is evidence from both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman that perhaps Atticus is not such an innocent man in To Kill a Mockingbird, and also that he may not be so guilty in Go Set a Watchman and this may be in part why Jean Louise Finch goes a little easy on her dad when he crushes her childhood mentality.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, when Atticus Finch is delivering his closing argument in the trial, he reminds the jury of the ‘social crime’ for a white woman to kiss a black man (TKM). As he is at least in part justifying Mayella Ewell’s decision to find a cover up for her social injustice, he still generalizes that blacks and whites are seen as separate entities in his society. Because he ends up delivering such a powerful closing speech that should clearly show Tom Robinson is innocent of the crime, this statement can easily be overlooked. While Atticus Finch says “[he is] no idealist to believe in the integrity of our courts” (TKM), he never explicitly says that in general men and women should be treated equal. Other than this one statement, Atticus Finch is truly an iconic man who fought for equality. Unfortunately, this information is coming from the point of view of a six year old girl who would naturally see her only parent as an iconic figure so much of Atticus’s character is likely distorted. However, while the concrete evidence still makes Atticus Finch seem exceptionally more tolerant than he was in Go Set a Watchman, Atticus Finch still does not change as much as people may think.

Chapter 17 of Go Set a Watchman does a fantastic job of encompassing Atticus Finch’s character. He and Jean Louise begin talking innocently about their different social views. Gradually, Jean Louise begins to lose composure until she finally erupts when he asks her “what’s to prevent any Negro from going where he pleases in this country and finding what he wants.” (Lee 242) She blames him for not being hard enough on her and not telling her the truth about the way he truly feels. While this is going on, Atticus stays even keeled and explains to her “you’re upset by having seen me doing something you think is wrong, but I’m trying to make you understand my position.” (Lee 246) Atticus is still gentle with Jean Louise but he has to treat her a little bit differently as a twenty-six year old woman. It is common for parents to not tell their children things that might hurt their feelings and allow them to figure these things out on their own. Despite Jean Louise being on the verge of throwing a chair at him, Atticus simply replies with “Are you finished with what you have to say?” (Lee 248) This is a truly admirable quality of Atticus’s that holds through both To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Additionally, Atticus does not show himself as a highly racist character. By attending the citizen’s council meetings, Atticus is doing nothing malicious. Rather, he is simply relating to the way society feels about the pressing issue of race as he does in his famous closing statement.

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While Jean Louise has aged, Atticus was always a caring father that wanted the best for her.

There are changes in how Atticus expresses himself around Jean Louise at age 26 than when she was six, but many of his ideals, seen both implicitly and explicitly, are roughly the same. In the final chapter after Atticus has told Jean Louise he is proud of her for formulating her own opinions, she is clearly more at ease. Because Atticus’s character did not change all that much and he wanted the best for Jean Louise in her childhood by not informing her of his imperfections, Jean Louise rightfully eased up on her father. She understood that she was making him out to be a villain that he was not. She was ultimately able to understand that she was looking through her father’s good qualities and empathize with him for having to deal with her ranting. There is nothing in Go Set a Watchman that makes me not want to empathize with Atticus Finch for being thrown under a bad light.

Works Cited:

Lee, Harper. Go Set a Watchman. New York: HarperCollins, 2015. Print.

To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. By Horton Foote. Perf. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford. Universal-International, 1962. Web.

When You Cannot Expect Empathy

While social media can be a useful tool for people to express their ideas, it can also be dangerous. According to a Pew Research Report referenced in Suren Ramasubbu’s Expecting Empathy on the Internet, “Eighty eight percent of social media-using teens have witnessed other people being cruel on social network sites.” This clearly demonstrates that many people are not afraid to express themselves when they are behind a computer screen. This issue has led to many people posting unwarranted things on social media that has ultimately led to their demise, both on their online profiles and in their real lives. There are many documented cases of this phenomenon, such as Lilly Workneh’s documentation of the social media case of Zach Davis, a former Ohio cop.

 

In April of 2015, Davis tweeted extremely racist comments equating the black men and women in Baltimore to the apes in Planet of the Apes, completely dehumanizing the black community.

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screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-53-16-pmWhile he seemed to avoid much of the public slander that other social media disasters like Justine Sacco received for their tweets, Davis did get fired from his job as a result of his public comments, so the real life implications of his tweets are very real and severe.

In many cases, one should be able to empathize with people who post the wrong thing at the time because the person did a bad job conveying humor. However, with Zach Davis’s tweets, Davis “did not believe that his comments were racist” (Workneh). Not to mention, Davis could not have chosen a worse time to joke about the killings in Baltimore than right after they were happening when Davis made these tweets. Because of this, this specific instance of social media atrocity transcends the boundaries of simply being a social media mistake and becomes an heinous act of intolerance. Additionally, it is nearly impossible for anyone to empathize with a man who is accepting of his own bigotry and ignorant of it.

 

According to Suren Ramasubbu and his article in the Huffington Post, Expecting Empathy on the Internet http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suren-ramasubbu/expecting-empathy-on-the-internet_b_7737962.html, empathy is already starting to drop due to the social isolation that comes with people spending more time behind a computer screen so in a case where a man is not even willing to admit he is wrong, it is quite difficult to empathize with Zach Davis. As unfortunate as it was for Davis to lose his job over social media, the fact that he still backed his decision to post the tweet makes it very difficult for anyone to empathize with him. It would have been one thing if Davis owned up to his mistake and apologized but according to the county sheriff at the time, Gene Kelly, he did not see the “insensitivity, hostility, and maliciousness” (Workneh) that most everyone else did.

 

There are many examples of cases, such as Justine Sacco’s case, where people are over criticized for their wrongdoing on social media. Sacco made a joke about white supremacy that, while it wasn’t funny, actually had a purpose to point out the flaw in people’s thinking. Furthermore, she apologized for the tweet as soon as she realized it was negatively affecting people. People continued to slash her falsely claiming that she was “over privileged” (Ronson). In these such cases, it is perfectly appropriate to empathize with Sacco, and Ramasubbu would agree with this. In the case of Zach Davis, however, social media was simply a reminder to people that if you say something uncalled for, there are consequences you will have to deal with. While in Davis’s case, these consequences were not people constantly bashing at him, he does lose his job, and for the people who have heard about this case, most will see him in a bad light for not justifying or qualifying his actions. It is difficult for people to respect and understand the motive behind how he handled his tweets. As a result, it is difficult for people to empathize with him because he does not really apologize for his actions that hurt many people. While there certainly was some reason Davis posted these tweets and maybe some people can empathize him for making a mistake, but ultimately it is quite difficult for the average person to wrap his or her head around Zach Davis’s tweet, and therefore empathize with him.

Works Cited:

Ramasubbu, Suren. Expecting Empathy on the Internet. The Huffington Post. 7 July 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/suren-ramasubbu/expecting-empathy-on-the-internet_b_7737962.html. 18 October 2016. Web.
Workneh, Lilly. Ohio Sheriff’s Deputy Fired Over Racist Tweets Comparing Baltimore Protesters To ‘Planet Of The Apes’. The Huffington Post. 27 May 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/27/officer-racist-tweets-ape_n_7453458.html. 18 October 2016. Web.

Can There Be Empathy for Those Who Commit Atrocious Acts?

Morton’s Empathy for the Devil addresses why morality can inhibit empathy. He believes that with morality comes a barrier that obstructs a person’s ability to feel empathy with those who commit acts of atrocity. His use of hypothetical situations help the audience show how barriers that inhibit one’s actions can be broken, without allowing the audience to get too emotionally attached to these situations. He then ties these situations together to show how various people can connect with another person’s acts of atrocity. While Morton mentions that people’s inability to overcome these barriers results in pseudo-empathy where people feel a false sense of empathy, he also suggests that various situations allow people to empathize with people that commit acts of atrocity to an extent. He concludes by asserting that ultimately these connections can never be truly empathetic because the barriers that they break shy in comparison to the barriers broken by heinous acts.

While much of Morton’s argument makes complete sense and is tough to dispute, his reference to the possibility of people empathizing with those who commit acts of atrocity because of unrelated experiences is questionable. Morton argues that bystanders can understand how such acts can be done but not why they are done. This is the point in Morton’s argument that is in my opinion most debatable. He later qualifies the statement saying that “very few of the situations [given in his text] are mutually compatible” (Morton 327) but these experiences are not even enough for a person to believe that they can empathize with those who commit heinous acts as pseudo-empathy would suggest. Before I delve too deeply into Morton’s argument in comparison to my own, I want to give you a better definition of what empathy is with the video below.

The important takeaway from this video in my mind is that oftentimes we cannot necessarily connect with people who have vastly different ideals and personalities than ourselves. In the context of Morton’s piece, some of the situations presented in Morton’s essay, such as the dog poop situation (with person U) and the shy guy situation (with person T), do not help a person empathize with a criminal while Morton argues that each situation helps a character empathize with people who commit acts of atrocity, such a person A in his essay. As seen by the causes of empathy in Stepian’s “Educating for Empathy”, empathy is provoked by an understanding of a person’s situation. While there are some seemingly trivial factors that can lead to empathy, such as a person’s overall happiness, these factors do not extend so far as being able to understand the motive behind a murder.

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A doctor interacting with a patient, as described in Stepian’s essay.

Similarly to Morton, Stepian explains that there can be barriers to empathy present in a physician to patient interaction. The major barriers presented in Stepian’s essay are age and socioeconomic status. Despite a twisted angle on this, relating a typical civilian and a criminal would require breaking some socioeconomic barrier. However, unlike Morton, Stepian claims that there is a way to overcome these barriers. The physicians must take classes related to empathy that bring out skills necessary to empathize with people of all backgrounds so the end, these physicians are able to empathize with nearly all of their patients. Ultimately, Stepian argues that if someone works hard enough to try to truly understand a person’s situation, they can empathize with them. If it is inherently difficult to empathize with someone because of their situation, there must be extensive attention put into the situation to the point where the person can truly connect with him or her in order to empathize. I agree with the fact that it is theoretically possible from any person to empathize with another if they work hard enough at it, there are some cases where it is simply too much effort. For example, if someone murders another person, it is possible for someone to empathize with him or her, but it is so difficult to get past the atrocious act to put in the effort for someone who is seemingly undeserving. 

It is possible to see how Morton intends for all of the people in these situations to empathize with a criminal. For example, one way people can interpret how the dog poop woman (person U) is able to empathize with Criminal A, at least in part, is based on the notion that her experience before being able to clean the poop was a frustrating one. Because of the angle, Morton hints at the fact that she is able to empathize with the frustration that criminal A feels. However, this connection is not enough to be able to empathize with someone. When someone experiences such a different view from Person A, the only way to empathize with Person A is to find a significant connection or attachment to Person A’s situation.

While it is not to say that no one can empathize with people who commit acts of atrocity, there is only a select few that can, and this select few can only empathize with this person if they have enough of an understanding of the criminal’s situation. A mere sharing of frustration oftentimes is not enough to be able to empathize at all with one who commits heinous acts. This small disagreement with Morton’s argument is certainly not substantial enough to hinder an agreement with Morton’s argument as a whole.

Works Cited

CogSai. “What Is Empathy?” YouTube. YouTube, 05 June 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2016.

Morton, Adam. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. Oxford University Press 318, 2011.

Stepien, Kathy A., and Amy Baernstein. “Educating for Empathy: A Review.” Journal of General Internal Medicine, vol. 21, no. 5, 2006., pp. 524-530

Formal Assignment #1 Final- When Empathy Masks Justice

According to Martin L. Hoffman’s “Empathy, Justice, and the Law”, empathy, or more specifically affective empathy, is “an emotional state triggered by another’s emotional state or situation, in which one feels what the other feels…” (231). In A Time to Kill, Jake Brigance clearly invokes this genuine emotion in the members of the court and jury during his closing speech based on the brutal raping of Tonya Hailey. The jury is able to really empathize with Carl Lee Hailey and as a result, they rule Hailey not guilty of murdering two men that he killed in retaliation for the rape of his daughter. This brings up the question of whether justice is served with this decision or if the jury takes the empathy they feel for Hailey too far and the just decision is masked. Justice is served when the lawful decision is made, and while in some cases empathy can trump justice (Hoffman 238), justice is not served in Carl Lee Hailey’s trial in A Time to Kill singlehandedly because of the empathy people felt for him.

In order to understand the idea that Hailey’s trial did not promote justice in the lawmaking system, it is important to understand what makes this decision unlawful, and as a result unjust. A lawful decision is not one that necessarily neglects empathy, as empathy can be used to see point of views that may have otherwise been ignored, but rather that takes all empathy into account. While the jury in A Time to Kill does a remarkable job empathizing with Carl Lee Hailey and his daughter Tonya, so good a job that they completely change their verdict in the case, they neglect to understand the pain and suffering that the families of the two men killed by Hailey. The two rapists were terrible people, seen by the fact that they spat on black peoples’ porches, belittled them, and ultimately raped a child. However, it is still inexcusable to kill two young men. Because Brigance’s closing speech brings so much emotion to the jurors, they overlook the fact that tens of people are mourning over the death of family members. As a result of this, the jurors fail fail to be “judicious spectators” (Nussbaum 73). As explained in Nussbaum’s “Rational Emotions”, a judicious spectator is “without bias and surveys the scene before him [or her] with a certain sort of detachment” (73). At the same time, a judicious spectator needs to understand “what it is like to be each of the persons whose situation he imagines” (Nussbaum 73). The jurors not only neglect the empathy that needs to be felt for the families of the two killed men, but also do not give the proper detachment from Tonya’s situation needed to make a lawful and judicious decision. On top of this, the overpowering of empathy for Tonya and Carl Lee Hailey paired with the lack of empathy for the two dead men results in an unlawful decision that contradicts the evidence given in the trial.

Before Jake Brigance’s closing speech, the jury was overwhelmingly in favor of convicting Carl Lee Hailey of his murder of two men. There was never more than one person in favor of acquitting Carl Lee Hailey in either of the jury’s preliminary votes. There is also sufficient evidence to support this claim, including the fact that the only person the defense could bring up to support the idea that Hailey was insane at the time of the murder was himself convicted of statutory rape years before this trial. Also, most convincingly, Hailey exclaims that the two men who raped Tonya should “burn in hell” (TK). In saying this, Carl Lee Hailey is unknowingly bringing death upon himself for killing two people, which is far worse than raping a girl. The only piece of evidence that is beneficial for the defense before Brigance’s closing speech is the testimony of the Deputy Looney, the man that Carl Lee accidentally shot and severely injured. While Looney acknowledges the fact that Carl Lee did not at all intend to shoot him and that Carl Lee apologized for shooting him in this positive testimony, Deputy Looney does not sugar coat the fact that Carl Lee shot the two men. This is one of many pieces of concrete evidence that should have led to the conviction of Carl Lee Hailey.

Since justice is determined by what is lawfully right, Carl Lee Hailey should have been convicted of the murder of two men.  The ruling that for the court case basically concludes that it is worse to rape someone than it is to kill someone. If someone were to say that justice was achieved would be saying that the men deserved to die for raping Tonya and Carl Lee deserved to have the opportunity to kill two people without repercussion, then something simply does not add up. With the risk that blacks would not have been treated equally had Carl Lee Hailey been convicted, it could be argued that an overcompensation occurred. Regardless of the reasoning behind the jury’s decision to acquit Carl Lee Hailey, it is clear that the decision is based on neither the evidence provided nor on the legality of Hailey’s actions in comparison of those of the two rapists but rather on the closing speech.

After hearing this speech, the members of the jury are visibly shocked and their perception of the case has been completely altered. This alteration is caused entirely by the empathy that Jake Brigance invokes upon the members of the jury. Brigance’s appeal to pathos, or the emotion of the audience, really causes this empathy for Carl Lee. There is nothing in terms of the legality of the act that is impacted by Brigance’s closing speech but Jake Brigance’s speech does a fantastic job of promoting empathy in the audience and more importantly for the case, in the jurors. This empathy that the audience feels is completely genuine, as the members of the jury and others in the audience are moved to tears. However since justice can only be determined by the law and law points in the direction of a conviction, empathy clearly masks the just decision for Carl Lee Hailey. As much as this a powerful ruling for the black community, the ruling does not promote justice.

This phenomenon of someone getting away with a crime because the jury empathized too much with the defense has been seen in other real cases where empathy masked justice. In Empathy, Justice, and the Law, a few of these cases are presented. In 1997, a British nanny in Boston shook a baby to death and justly charged with murder. After the trial that convicted the nanny, many people expressed a serious concern for the baby’s parents, and these people empathized with the parents. The judge felt these emotions too and as a result, the charge was reduced and then after another trial, the charge was dropped altogether and the nanny was completely set free despite killing a baby (252). While this is a far worse case of empathy creating injustice, it does greatly compare to the Carl Lee Hailey trial in that despite killing someone or multiple people, the defendant is acquitted. There is a fine line between what is just in legal terms and what is morally just, but in most cases, if something is legally unjust, then it is unjust altogether. The bottom line is that Carl Lee Hailey killed two young men and he should not simply get away with it even though those men did a terrible thing to Tonya. Empathy can serve as a great medium to determine justice in cases where the truth is being overlooked, but when other victims fail to receive their fair share of empathy and a man can get away with killing two men without consequence, empathy is masking justice rather than serving it.

 

Works Cited:

Hoffman, Martin L.”Empathy, Justice and the Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives.Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock. Warner Bros, 1996. Web. 20 Sept. 2016

Nussbaum, Martha. “Rational Emotions.” Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995. 53-78. Print.

Formal Assignment #1- Empathy vs. Justice

According to Martin L. Hoffman’s Empathy, Justice, and the Law, empathy, or more specifically affective empathy is “an emotional state triggered by another’s emotional state or situation, in which one feels what the other feels…” (231). In A Time to Kill, Jake Brigance clearly invokes this genuine emotion in the members of the court and jury during his closing speech based on the brutal raping of Tonya Hailey. The jury is able to really empathize with Carl Lee Hailey and as a result, they rule Hailey not guilty of murdering two men that he killed in retaliation for the rape of his daughter. This brings up the question of whether justice was served with this decision or if the jury took the empathy they felt too far and the just decision was masked. Justice is served when the lawful decision is made, and while in some cases empathy can trump justice (Hoffman 238), justice was not served in Carl Lee Hailey’s trial in A Time to Kill singlehandedly because of the empathy people felt for him.

 

Before Jake Brigance’s closing speech, the jury was overwhelmingly in favor of convicting Carl Lee Hailey of his murder of two men. There was never more than one person in favor of acquitting Carl Lee Hailey in either of the jury’s preliminary votes. There was also sufficient evidence to support this claim, including the fact that the only person the defence could bring up to support the idea that Hailey was insane at the time of the murder was himself convicted of statutory rape years before this trial. Also, most convincingly, Hailey exclaimed that the two men who raped Tonya should “burn in hell” (TK). In saying this, Carl Lee Hailey is unknowingly bringing death upon himself for killing two people, which is far worse than raping a girl. The only piece of evidence that was beneficial for the defense before Brigance’s closing speech was the testimony of the Deputy Looney, the man that Carl Lee accidentally shot and severely injured.

 

While Looney acknowledges the fact that Carl Lee did not at all intend to shot him and that Carl Lee apologized for shooting him in this positive testimony, Deputy Looney does not sugar coat the fact that Carl Lee shot the two men. Since justice is determined by what is lawfully right, Carl Lee Hailey should have been convicted of the murder of two men.  The ruling that for the court case basically concludes that it is worse to rape someone than it is to kill someone. If someone were to say that justice was achieved would be saying that the men deserved to die for raping Tonya and Carl Lee deserved to have the opportunity to kill two people without repercussion, then something simply does not add up. With the risk that blacks would not have been treated equally had Carl Lee Hailey been convicted, it could be argued that an overcompensation occurred. While this could be the case, there is also evidence that the members of the jury were not considering race in their decision to ultimately acquit Hailey. This is especially apparent during the closing speech.

 

When Jake Brigance is painting the picture of the rape that Tonya Hailey, he never says he is referencing Tonya. This leaves a lot of interpretation for the audience as to who he is referencing. Seen by the fact that many of the members of the jury cried during the speech, they could have been visualizing their own white children instead of Tonya. If this were the case, when Brigance says “now imagine she’s white” (TK), this could almost serve as a slap in the face because Brigance is calling the jury out for judging Carl Lee Hailey for being black. This could be a far fetched theory, but given the jury’s reaction to the speech, it is a serious possibility.

 

After hearing this speech, the members of the jury are visibly shocked and their perception of the case has been completely altered. This alteration was caused entirely by the empathy that Jake Brigance invoked upon the members of the jury. There was nothing in terms of the legality of the act that was impacted by Brigance’s closing speech. Jake Brigance’s speech does a fantastic job of promoting empathy in the audience and more importantly for the case, in the jurors. This empathy that the audience feels is completely genuine, as the members of the jury and others in the audience are in tears. Even though there was nothing that changed legally, Jake Brigance’s speech singlehandedly reversed the verdict of the case. Since justice can only be determined by the law, empathy clearly masks the just decision for Carl Lee Hailey. As much as this a powerful ruling for the black community, the ruling does not promote justice.
This phenomenon of someone getting away with a crime because the jury empathized too much with the defense has been seen in other real cases where empathy masked justice. In Empathy, Justice, and the Law, a few of these cases are presented. In 1997, a British nanny in Boston shook a baby to death and justly charged with murder. After the trial that convicted the nanny, many people expressed a serious concern for the baby’s parents, and these people empathized with the parents. The judge felt these emotions too and as a result, the charge was reduced and then after another trial, the charge was dropped altogether and the nanny was completely set free despite killing a baby (252). While this is a far worse case of empathy creates injustice, it does greatly compare to the Carl Lee Hailey trial in that despite killing someone or multiple people, the defendant was acquitted. There is a fine line between what is just in legal terms and what is morally just, but in most cases, if something is legally unjust, then it is unjust altogether. The bottom line is that Carl Lee Hailey killed two young men and he should not simply get away with it even though those men did a terrible thing to Tonya. Empathy can serve as a great medium to determine justice in cases where the truth is being overlooked, but when a man can get away with killing two men without consequence, empathy is masking justice rather than serving it.

Works Cited:

Hoffman, Martin L.”Empathy, Justice and the Law”. Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives.Ed. Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. Oxford, UK: Oxford UP, 2011. 230-54. Print.

A Time to Kill. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Perf. Matthew McConaughey, Samuel L. Jackson and Sandra Bullock. Warner Bros, 1996. Web. 20 Sept. 2016

Blog Post 3- Empathy, Real or Apparent

Carl Lee is a fascinating character in A Time to Kill. While he does some very cringeworthy things like demanding money from the church and of course killing the two men who raped Tonya, Carl Lee is still able to get Jake Brigance and other people to empathize with him. This is seen first when Carl Lee is initially able to convince Jake Brigance to be the attorney for his trial. On top of that, while he does not have nearly enough money to properly pay Brigance, Jake still understands the situation he is in and accepts the case despite not being paid well for it. The most significant case of Carl Lee getting Jake Brigance to empathize with him occurs after he seemingly blows the case open by exclaiming that the men that raped Tonya should “burn in hell” (TK). This claim brought up the obvious argument that killing people is worse than raping someone so Lee is essentially bringing conviction and likely death upon himself. However, the night before closing statements, Carl Lee is able to convince Jake to help him out while also making the audience empathize with him.

When Carl Lee met up with Jake Brigance the night before the closing speeches, he tells Jake that he has the capability to look at Carl Lee like the jurors have the capability to look at him since they are mostly white fathers like Brigance is. As much as this may be a good point for the case, it inherently makes the audience feel bad for Carl Lee. Because the audience knows that Carl Lee thinks the only way to win the case is for him to realize that Brigance is on the ‘bad side’ despite working on this case for days upon days with him, the audience has to feel for him. While is impossible for the some members in the audience to have experienced this problem, everyone is able to completely understand what is going on in Lee’s mind. Because Lee’s situation allows for people to connect with Carl Lee and Tonya’s experience. Lee knows that no matter what he does, white people will always view him as different. Once Jake Brigance is able to internalize this statement from Carl Lee, he shows Carl Lee and the audience that he empathizes with Carl Lee and his story through his closing statement. Not only Tonya’s story get Jake to empathize with Carl Lee but also Brigance was able to relay the story to the jury and get them to empathize with the jury. As seen by the tears shed by the members of the jury, the empathy felt by the characters in the movie was very real. Transitively speaking, Carl Lee’s plea to Jake to set him free by relating with the members of the jury leads to the most powerful moment of the case that does a complete 180 from guilty to not guilty. The fact that Carl Lee does some pretty unspeakable things makes it all the more impressive that he can ultimately set himself free of charge of the charge for murder. This shows the extreme power that empathy can have in altering people’s mindsets and even redetermining ruling in legal cases.

Works Cited: A Time to Kill. Directed by Joel Schumacher, performances by Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, and Samuel L. Jackson, Regency Enterprises, Warner Bros., 1996.

Blog #2- To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch Closing Statement

Gentleman, I stand before you today to make a point that has already has been made clear to you throughout the entirety of this trial; Tom Robinson is innocent and did not rape Mayella Ewell. This trial show never have even occurred because the plaintiffs did not supply the jury with any evidence suggesting that Tom Robinson could have been a culprit of beating and raping Mayella Ewell. Additionally, there is nothing in Tom Robinson’s trial that can be disputed while the testimony given by the Ewells was contradictory and was very uncertain. While it may not be socially accepted to treat the honest testimony of a black man at least equal to the clearly faulty and contradictory testimony given by Mayella and Bob Ewell, this is what needs to be done to bring justice back to the defendant’s life. According to the plaintiff’s testimony, Mayella Ewell was brutally beaten primarily on her right side and considering Mrs. Ewell stated that she was looking directly at the perpetrator when she was being attacked, the culprit must have led with his left hand, something that Tom Robinson is physically unable to do. While I do believe Mayella was brutally beaten, and there is evidence of this, the culprit could not have been Tom Robinson, but rather another man sitting before us. Tom Robinson is a humble and gentle man that did so much as to feel sorry for a white woman and as a result, he is being accused of committing a crime that is unspeakable for a man that constantly went out of his way to help a white woman. While the subject of rape is very touchy and I do not want to put blame on Mayella Ewell, I cannot go so far as allowing her and Mr. Ewell to lie about the victim, something they solemnly swore not to do. I cannot acquit Mayella of lying simply because she does not want to deal with the fact that she kissed a black man. Unfortunately, she has been placed in a society where it is unacceptable for a white woman to kiss a black man. It should be encouraged or at least acceptable for someone to kiss whoever he or she wants regardless of skin color so Tom Ferguson should not need to be blamed for committing a crime to cover for someone else’s insecurity. As of now, Tom Ferguson has been put in a spot where he cannot win unless a jury who can treat all people equal agrees to acquit Tom Ferguson of a crime that he could not have done if he wanted to. Fortunately we have just that jury in front of us so for justice’s sake, acquit Tom Ferguson. The only possible way for Tom Ferguson to get convicted is if you, the jury, completely reject the testimony that has been given to you so I implore you to do your duty and return order and justice to your community and to Tom Robinson’s life.

Works Cited

To Kill a Mockingbird. Dir. Robert Mulligan. By Horton Foote. Perf. Gregory Peck, Mary Badham, and Phillip Alford. Universal-International, 1962. Web (Netflix). 13 Sept. 2016.

Blog Post #1- “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” by Martin L. Hoffman

Martin L. Hoffman’s, “Empathy, Justice, and the Law” discusses how empathy is provoked and  then how it is relevant in law. He concludes that people tend to have good consciences and as a result, they often try to empathize with someone in distress and they try to help out these victims. In terms of law, this innate tendency to empathize can get in the way of determining the legality of a case, so while empathy is an inherently good trait, it can skew one’s perception in a legal case. Hoffman claims that people begin to develop a elementary sense of empathy, affective empathy to be more specific, at a young age, perhaps as young as three or fours years old. Subsequently, as one develop, he/she understands more about the world, the way people feel, and the way a victim’s situation affects the feelings a person has. According to Hoffman, empathy has driven many acts of empathy, such as the German people saving the Jews from the Nazis. However, in terms of law, Hoffman argues that while empathy can be relevant in the case of law, it can also be biased in determining the legal outcome of a case. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for example, brings proper awareness to the unfairness and cruelity of slavery, showing that empathy can help in law. People recognize the unjustified struggle that enslaved people faced on plantations and through their empathy, slavery was abolish thanks to empathy. Thanks to a level of awareness, people were able to do something about a moral issue that they felt morally obligated to help with. However, in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, which ultimately worked to desegregate school, the bias of empathy in a legal case is seen because looking at the struggle black kids faced having to be separated and put in inferior schools made people feel bad for them and want to help them. While empathy was a major player in the ultimate decision to desegregate, Hoffman argues that empathy is still important to have in these cases to make the right moral ruling.

A key word that Hoffman uses frequently throughout the piece is “distress” specifically in the case of empathic distress. Hoffman uses the term “empathic distress” to express the idea that the innate goodness of people causes them to feel distress in the case of another person’s suffering. Whether this is because the “empathizer” is relating back to a similar traumatizing experience related to the victim’s distress or they can just deeply understand how difficult someone’s situation is, people tend to help someone in distress because they empathize with them.  In terms of the law, court officials saw the distress that victims were going through and the natural reaction for them to empathize, at least to some extent with them, led to morally good rulings.

Works Cited

Hoffman, Martin L. “14 Empathy, Justice, and the Law.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. N.p.: n.p., 2011. 230+. Oxford Scholarship, Jan. 2012. Web. 7 Sept. 2016.