Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Questions about Empathy

"We live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principle goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained."
--Barack Obama, speech, Jul. 12, 2006

I have been thinking a lot about the reason why we have such a difficult time as a culture realizing that other people's feelings are important--even those far away from us. But then there are times when we can relate --think of the overwhelming positive tide of giving that took place as a result of the tsunami event a few years back that washed away huge numbers of people and large parts of entire countries. Why was that? Because the images the media displayed where ones that we could relate to? Because of the massive nature of the tidal wave that hit all those coastlines in such an unprepared fashion? A similar outpouring of generosity from all around the world took place after Katrina. Could empathy maybe something that is visually triggered--it is the power of certain images --or certain narratives? To just talk or worst still lecture to students about abstract things like the suffering that took place during the great depression or this recent one--or how emerging economies throughout the world--particularly those in Africa and Asia have been harder hit as a result of this economic downturn is to not connect with the brain's empathy centers. We need to see the people, see what they are dealing with --as an entry point into understanding them and empathizing. Is the the fascination with celebrity and "image" is that we believe we can understand that image can hide as well as reveal them as people--do we enjoy playing the game of sorting out the image from their more authentic selves? How do we bring all of these insights into the classroom to inform and encourage the empathy muscle to grow?

I would be interested in a discussion of this--if you are reading me on your Kindle--welcome and please feel join in..

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