In a world of difference we can – and should – work harder to cultivate subtle, perceptive empathy towards all human beings.Empathy, the sharing of feelings with another person and consequently caring about them, is typically a virtue in our society. ‘I hear you’ and ‘I feel your pain’ are said with a sense of compassion and concern for the welfare of others. We embrace the ‘Golden Rule’ to treat others as we would want to be treated. And when we feel empathy, we are inclined to do good things. One of the leading psychology scholars on empathy, C Daniel Batson, points out that, although definitions of empathy vary, all share the view that empathy is a process through which we experience and understand the feelings of others, and that can move us to respond in considerate and concerned ways.
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Do not confuse empathy with reading others to take advantage or gain from them.
Books with provocative titles such as The Dark Sides of Empathy and Against Empathy demand that we ask ourselves if empathy is good and worth our time.1 I am up for the discussion, as I believe deeper analysis of empathy can only help us to better understand it. But I do worry that disparaging empathy is clouded by misrepresentations of what empathy is and lets people claim that because there is a dark side to empathy, we do not need to attend to the feelings of others.
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