This is a universal question that all of us might have thought about: who actually knows me? Empathy, in common terms, is the understanding of another’s belief, desires, and feelings directly, AKA perspective taking. It is unfortunate that people often experience empathy gap: “an inability to understand each other’s unique perspectives” due to their “misinterpretation of the other party’s actions” (Bohns & Flynn 2). Through this blog sequence, we will explore Morton’s false guidelines for empathy, a Facebook post that received many empathetic responses which altogether made some community impacts, and audience reactions to Harper Lee’s portrayal of Atticus in Go Set a Watchman. Eventually, we can come to the conclusion: although our present skill and readiness to empathize can serve as the key for interpersonal connections, and, in turn, we gain potential to create a social impact, our flaws to fully empathize could sometimes cause misunderstanding and disagreements in communities.
Perspective taking can go the wrong directions. Frequent enough, a person is affected with their “concerned about their reputation, self-esteem, and relationships”, which “lead to misinterpretation of the other party’s actions” (Bohns & Flynn 2). We all have individualistic approaches to empathy. The first blog Evaluating Morton’s Pseudo Empathy discusses Morton’s description of pseudo empathy (when we think we know how others felt, but in reality, we only know how we would felt in an imagination induced situation) in his article Empathy for the devil. Morton’s high standard for “accurate empathy” (feeling exactly how the other would feel in the same situation), a standard unrealistically high to achieve. In his article, Morton has provided no example of any non-pseudo, perfectly accurate empathy. “To make judgments about another person’s attitudes and behaviors—an individual will typically draw on her own experience as a starting point and adjust from there. However, these adjustments are often insufficient, which can result in striking social prediction errors” (Bohns & Flynn 7). For example, asking a pair of twins who lived together all their live about how they like the novel Go Set a Watchman (This is like when people looks at the same situation), and it’ll be dubious for them to have the same exact feedbacks about why or why don’t they like the novel (People then interpret the situation differently). Now think about a person who has never read the novel, s/he reads the twins’ feedback (Now the bystander of the situation is inexperienced in a specific circumstance). Would s/he be able to empathize perfectly with either twin just by hearing their feedbacks? That would be unlikely.
After weighing the existence credibility of accurate empathy, the second blog post: Virtual Connections that Can Alter Policies presents a social media uproar triggered by communal empathy, demonstrating the ability of empathy to connect in between people. Even when empathy is not perfect. It starts with an agitated mother who’s daughter Franyo was mistreated by the school authorities wearing a skirt that was later found to fall within the limit of school policy. She decided to post her and her daughter’s experience on Facebook under anger. Facebook shares soon increased exponentially (more than 1K to be exact). In only a day after, the school authorities apologized to Franyo due to the social media pressure. It seems to be a successful counterattack against unfair code enforcements. Social media is an easily accessible tool for everyone who desires more effective help from others, “not only because the tool can facilitate the efficient matching of helpers and help-seekers on a larger scale … but also because its format allows users to avoid many of the pitfalls of emotional perspective-taking.” (Bohns & Flynn 16). The entire Facebook post’s comment section either shows support or understanding, some even shared their own personal stories to relate with Webster. Facebook offers the 222 commenters a platform to agree, empathize, and share opinions with each other, which also generated the power to change a piece of the community, a portion being the apology Franyo received from her school.
The harmonic community engagement above contrasts with instances described in the third blog post: Disscusing Atticus Without his Sugarcoat. Where Atticus in Watchman disappointed his daughter and many readers due to flaws in empathy. “emotional perspective-taking, requires … two, adjustments. First, an individual must make the same error ridden initial adjustment from “self” to “other” … Second, the individual must make a second adjustment from “self in current emotional state” to “self in a different emotional state,” which can lead to its own set of errors” (Bohns & Flynn 16).
A perspective taker must be able to place themselves in another’s situation entirely while feeling how the other would feel in the exact situation. However, everyone can only see from their own perspective and knowledge, even when they witnessing the same event. In To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, although Jean spent all of her childhood around Atticus, witnessing the court cases and town disagreements Atticus overcome, but fact is, people are “unable to draw upon their prior experiences with seeking help when we are in the position of a potential helper” (Bohns & Flynn 8). Have you felt starvation before? Have you walked pass a possibly ravenous homeless person begging for food without batting an eye? For ones who answers yes for both questions, that is because we can’t even perfectly recall and empathize with our very own experiences. When Uncle Jack yelled: “Jean Louise, have you ever met your father?” (Watchman 271) We know neither did Jean Louise nor some readers have even placed themselves in Atticus’s position. They have always falsely predicted Atticus’ motives. Jean thought she knew her father well since she always sees what he sees, but she didn’t realize that they are different entities – she cannot be thinking what Atticus thinks. For the non-judicial readers, they are misled by seeing solely from Jean’s point of view, resulting in the massive public dissatisfaction with the novel.
Empathy is a complex process. The restrictions (their values, beliefs, desire and lack of knowledge) people carry made it impossible for people to fully feel with another. However, there is no doubt that empathy is essential to the development of humanity. Empathy with more accuracy connects people who are driven by similar motives. Now back to the question: Who “can” really know us? This question has an answer. And I’ll leave it for you to decide after reading the blog sequence.
- Bohns, Vanessa K., and Francis J. Flynn. “Empathy Gaps Between Helpers and Help-Seekers: Implications for Cooperation.” DigitalCommons (2015): digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu Web.
- 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.
- Morton, Adam, and Peter Goldie. “Empathy for the Devil.” Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives. By Amy Coplan. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2011. 318-30. Print
- Byrd, Caitlin. “Facebook Post about Moultrie Middle School Student’s Skirt Goes Viral, Reignites Dress Code Debate.” Post and Courier. N.p., 23 Sept. 2016. Web.
- Webster, Suzie. “Suzie Webster’s Facebook Post.” Facebook. N.p., 21 Sept. 2016. Web.
- Ridgley, Bryan. Complex Reality from Observation. Digital image. Tumblr. Www.thesociologicalcinema.com., n.d. Web. http://thesociologicalcinema.tumblr.com/post/82165907983/reality-can-be-so-complex-that-equally-valid
- Judd, Phil. Eyewear. Digital image. Amazonaws. Cartoon Stock, n.d. Web. https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/o/optical.asp