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Old 11-17-13   #1
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Default The Dark Side of Empathy?

Given my terrible and obnoxious habit of thinking, lol - this makes a lot of sense to me. And I'm surprised I had not had the clarity of mind to see it before this afternoon, listening to Paul Bloom on the CBC.
But I think there really is a darkside to empathy, and like anything, it can get excessive and wind up doing more harm than good..or more harm than clear thinking and evaluation.

What do you think?
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critic..._atlarge_bloom

"On many issues, empathy can pull us in the wrong direction. The outrage that comes from adopting the perspective of a victim can drive an appetite for retribution. (Think of those statutes named for dead children: Meganís Law, Jessicaís Law, Cayleeís Law.) But the appetite for retribution is typically indifferent to long-term consequences. In one study, conducted by Jonathan Baron and Ilana Ritov, people were asked how best to punish a company for producing a vaccine that caused the death of a child. Some were told that a higher fine would make the company work harder to manufacture a safer product; others were told that a higher fine would discourage the company from making the vaccine, and since there were no acceptable alternatives on the market the punishment would lead to more deaths. Most people didnít care; they wanted the company fined heavily, whatever the consequence."
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Old 11-18-13   #2
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

Balance in all things.

From my perspective, what about empathy for the perceived villain? Just putting that out there. If empathy can cloud your judgement, then it can make you see monsters where there aren't any.

Wise man say, never assume malevolence when incompetence will suffice. Sometimes the person who looks like the bad guy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maybe not most of the time, but it happens.

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Old 11-18-13   #3
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

Empathy here is simply not to blame -- suggestibility, however, may be. In all the cases that the article sites as empathy somehow being a negative (for instance, the Sandy Hook shootings and the ensuing excessive support), it is really media hype acting upon the suggestibility of people, using empathy as a fulcrum. Empathy is empathy. People's inability to blend empathy with reason, however, is another thing altogether, something which media is quick to take advantage of.
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Old 11-18-13   #4
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

The dark side to empathy, to me, has always been about not being able to draw the line between my own feelings and those of others. I would say that it is overempathising that leads to something feeling like it was done directly to you. Getting caught up in that feeling, well, that leads to loss of reason more than anything else in the world..

Many of these things are media-hyped as much as anything, as Leben also mentioned. No support is truly excessive and empathy is a praiseworthy thing that gets us to reach out in assistance of those affected, but it does bring us to the point where we practically have the next Salem on our hands in terms of dealing with people like, say, James Holmes of the theatre shooting in Aurora (CO). The response to the ones responsible for tragedy is, at times, entirely not constructive to the case at hand. The visceral quality of the empathy involved obstructs further reason to the point where we ourselves give in to the desire to cause harm.
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Old 11-18-13   #5
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

One example this man gave (on the radio) and it really is food for thought; say you are posed with the old question about the train. You are watching a train that's about to derail and kill several people, but if you pull a switch and change its direction, it will kill one but save the rest. for most of us, it's a no-brainer, we pull the switch! But let's say you are asked to actually push someone onto the racks, causing the brain to stop and saving everyone from death by derailment - most of us cannot do that. Bloom cites this as the dark side of empathy, that if we "feel' for something, we will act irrationally. I know for sure I couldn't push anyone to a horrible death, but it is still irrational to let hundreds die - horribly - and save one.

he also talked about, how the public gets so focused on saving one individual when millions of others die all the time; how we will donate money to a cause that has a face and a name attached but not to those we don't see - and therefore don't empathize with. In this way, Bloom regards empathy as a limitation, as an impediment to rational action. I am not saying I agree with this, but I do think OVER empathy can create irrationality i those situations where rational action and analysis are exactly what's called for.
I'm a woman who values a balance of the two, and I'm exceedingly weary of all thne emphasis on feelings/intuition/empathy while denigrating the intellect - but I'm still not pushing anyone in front of a moving train.
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Old 11-18-13   #6
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

Personally I don't see what the article describes as a dark side of empathy, in fact I see it as THE strong point of empathy. Empathy allows, amongst other things, to feel compassion on which we might act. It makes us act under certain circumstances, it does not make us NOT act under other circumstances. I think that's the distinction that the article misleadingly forgets.

Imagine the human as just slightly caring on average, but not enough to make any sacrifice (money, time e.g.) for an unknown person. When empathy takes place with for example media influence and other stuff then the human will make a sacrifice and the human will differ from the average.
When that human has differed from the average it is not that the human will suddenly not make other sacrifices anymore.

Not killing 1 person to save others, and not donating to a hospital because you donated to a specific child are irrelevant examples in my opinion. I am familiar with research similar to the vaccine example, and this writer cites only the research that fits his views. If you explain the issue in neutral words and explain the logic clearly, many people are not likely to punish such a company, just think of civil cases against such companies.

I do believe that empathy has a dark side when it is out of balance; no empathy makes you both not care about others and not understand them, too much will cripple you because there are always others whom are sad, angry and joyful. Imagine switching between those emotions every minute.


Further I believe in another great positive side of empathy; it provides a buffer against pure logic. Without empathy you would not care about most others at an emotional level. Combine that with odds of getting caught for crimes, 'uselessness' of charity etc. and you'd have a far harder society. No logical reason to keep a baby with strong defects? Empathy without logic wouldn't allow for societies to exist however because laws and rules are about the average and for the average person, they must be build on logic just like decisions at the state level have to be made with a lot of logic.

Thus logic and empathy combined allow us to do 'strange' things like not kill 1 to save 2 and risk 10 lives to save one person. It also allows us to have social welfare combined with personal freedoms and to give donations to a cause with the result of having less for ourselves.
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Old 11-18-13   #7
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

I think there are two different concepts of empathy being employed here. One is the ability to understand what others are feeling; an ability that most people except some socio-paths and psychopaths have to some degree. The other is the supernatural ability some of us have to actually feel other people's emotions. The two things are similar but not the same.

To answer Alice's question, I can choose to understand the motivations of the perceived villain and sometimes do. As an empath I have less choice about feeling what the villain feels. However, in neither case do I have to excuse or forgive the villain unless I make an intellectual judgement (nothing to do with empathy) that forgiveness is the best course of action. In this case it would depend on what the villain had done. My reactions would be very different if s/he had stolen food to feed a family than if s/he had molested a child to satisfy an internal need. But, this judgement has nothing to do with the degree of empathy (normal or supernatural) that I feel.
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Old 11-18-13   #8
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

I was just actually mulling this over, while making lunch... and what I think he's saying is not so much about the "dark side" of empathy, but the dark side of over-reliance on it. Let me try to give an example that'll make sense (after 4 hours sleep, sigh).

I just shared a beautiful, moving video to my FB Timeline, showing image after image of humans engaging in acts of kindness, rescuing animals in distress. I believe that most normal humans love animals, and even those not especially smitten iwth other species will find these images heartening and positive to watch. But many - millions of us - deeply care about other species and would, such as the people in the video did - even risk our own safety to help a wounded or imperiled creature.
I think that's wonderful, it's the Christ-centre, the Kwan Yin - the wild-heart, the very best of who we can be.

And then, on our way home from he event, we stop at Timmie's and get a ham and cheese to go...thus contributing to/supporting an industry that commits atrocities on a scale MILLIONS of times whatever the rescue event entailed. Organized, soulless torture of sentient beings.

What I think the "dark side of empathy" is, is that it's so biased and personalized...if one were to be rational for a moment, it makes NO SENSE at all that we care so, so deeply for an individual animal - I think of my clients who would sell their house for their dog - but others can just, you know, GO TO HELL.

So, using that terrible awful left side of the brain a moment - when we confront the broader picture, what do we do? Sure, it's overwhelming and of course, no one person can change it all. but we can use the insights and conclusions gained by rational processes - sober second thought? to confront the contradictions in our behaviour and adjust accordingly. That can mean getting a sandwich from a store that uses humane meat or it can mean becoming vegan. It can mean learning more about the plight of animals worldwide and taking up a cause..it an mean starting a fund to educate and build houses for dogs left outside all winter. It just means that the way one acts when the emotion of empathy is activated, is not a dissonant note in an otherwise disassociated life.
So I think the darkside here is the belief that empathy is enough...it is, of course, critically important and without, yeah we have a world full of sociopaths. But unless the discipline of intellectual evaluation and longterm change is introduced, one is really only acting out of how THEY are feeling at the moment.
Does that make sense?
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Old 03-12-18   #9
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Default Re: The Dark Side of Empathy?

Empathy, if unbalanced, can be a huge hindrance, especially on a large scale (When practiced toward hostile outcrops by entire nations, races, or cultures). Take a look at what is happening to America, most western European countries, the Boers in S.A., and even beginning to happen in Canada. I'm all for helping out others, but if you don't draw a HARD line, bad shit can happen.
I should know. I'm from Honduras.
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