Originally poste 17 Sept 20
Here are two excerpts:
Fixing this empathy deficit is a challenge because it is not just a matter of having good political or corporate leaders or people treating each other with good will and respect. It is, rather, because empathy is a fundamentally squishy term. Like many broad and complicated concepts, empathy can mean many things. Even the researchers who study it do not always say what they mean, or measure empathy in the same way in their studies—and they definitely do not agree on a definition. In fact, there are stark contradictions: what one researcher calls empathy is not empathy to another.
When laypeople are surveyed on how they define empathy, the range of answers is wide as well. Some people think empathy is a feeling; others focus on what a person does or says. Some think it is being good at reading someone’s nonverbal cues, while others include the mental orientation of putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. Still others see empathy as the ability or effort to imagine others’ feelings, or as just feeling “connected” or “relating” to someone. Some think it is a moral stance to be concerned about other people’s welfare and a desire to help them out. Sometimes it seems like “empathy” is just another way of saying “being a nice and decent person.” Actions, feelings, perspectives, motives, values—all of these are “empathy” according to someone.
Whatever people think empathy is, it’s a powerful force and human beings need it. These three things might help to remedy our collective empathy deficit:
Take the time to ask those you encounter how they are feeling, and really listen. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Remember that we all tend to underestimate other people’s emotional distress, and we’re most likely to do so when those people are different from us.
Remind yourself that almost everyone is at the end of their rope these days. Many people barely have enough energy to handle their own problems, so they don’t have their normal ability to think about yours.