The Scariest Part of Empathy

Posted on: 19th August 2013

This weekend I hosted a conversation on Empathy for The HUB Islington. The format was simple and I played the following 2 videos:


This first video was amazing and generates lots of conversation about what empathy is and how we might apply it. But it was this second video which I must have watched for the 10th time that really started the wheels turning:

Watching this, I was forced to look at why I have ‘selective empathy.’ There are probably 1001 reasons why we develop selective empathy, why it is easier to feel one person’s pain over another’s. Let’s face it – when I was 5 and one of my siblings hurt me, the last thing I was intent on doing was thinking about how they felt when I hurt them back!

I think it is that very simple statement that shed light onto my selective empathy dilemma. We develop selective empathy because the scariest part of empathy is that I might have to admit that I am wrong.

It could be my world view; it could be my opinion on something; it could be the actions I have followed through.

Sure – I’m wrong all the time, but when there are real consequences to my actions, when my life could be ruined, when there is a real cost to my actions do I really want to be wrong?! And what happens if the person who is wronged has the same problems with empathy that I do, will they be merciful to me?

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