Do you value empathy? What is empathy? Is empathy a strength or weakness? These questions are a few queries about what I think is an important intellectual trait or virtue.
Our president said, “We seem to be suffering from an empathy deficit – our ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steel worker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.’ – Barack Obama
Empathy – the imaginative act of stepping into another person’s shoes and viewing the world from their perspective – is a trait that many great leaders have and many poor leaders need. Roman Krznaric a teacher who runs courses on how to expand your empathetic imagination, and is the expert on Empathy at The School of Life in London, believes empathy is key to success in most human endeavors.
Empathy is different than pity or sympathy. If you see a report on poor people and how they are suffering in today’s economy and you feel sorry for them, then you are not expressing empathy but most likely pity or sympathy. On the other hand, if you try to “put yourself in their shoes,” if you seek understanding of how they feel, what they feel, when they feel, where they feel, etc. then I believe you are expressing empathy.
When a group of people demonstrate and chant “death to America!”, it’s important for us to not be deficit in empathy. By simply saying “they hate us” and not, figuratively, putting ourselves in their shoes does nothing but build a wall between us. Usually that wall is torn down with war. And, in my opinion, we need to emphasize peace, not war.
So how does one develop empathy? I think it is important to understand what the opposite of empathy is; self-centeredness. Yes, if you want to have empathy you must strive not to be self-centered. Think of it using the following question: How can you fairly judge others’ ideas and beliefs unless you learn how to take on the perspectives of others and to accurately think as they think?
Another point of view regarding empathy can be found by going to the Foundation Of Critical Thinking.
So, if a group of people are chanting “death to America,” we need to take on their perspectives and as accurately as possible think as they think. THEN we can judge them!