We are living in a world where some humans are feeding others with plastic. Where consciences no longer stop people from feeding children with Urea in the name of milk. As you read or hear these inhumane sagas the heart fills with disgust, fear and pain – a pain that comes from not being able to trust anything and anyone.
So why is the world becoming less and less human, so evil?
Baron-Cohen in his book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty, says “science provides a more satisfactory explanation for evil and that explanation is empathy – or rather, lack of empathy.”
“Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.
Clearly looking at the world events, a question arises – Is empathy on a decline?
There have been many studies done to answer this question one of them is “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis”
by Konrath, S.H., O’Brien, E.H., Hsing, (2010)
The results of this study show that the average level of “empathic concern,” meaning people’s feelings of sympathy for the misfortunes of others, declined by 48 percent between 1979 and 2009; the average level of “perspective taking,” people’s tendencies to imagine others’ points of view, declined by 34 percent over the same period. There was a particularly steep decline between 2000 and 2009.
What are the key reasons behind the decline of empathy?
- The notion of “Life being a rat race” to be won. Primarily competitive rather than primarily collaborative mentality. A zero sum mentality – “Their loss is my gain.
- Stronger pressures on young people to succeed academically and professionally.
- Loneliness and isolation
- Shrinking family size (dealing with siblings may teach empathy)
- Consequential Behavior
The way our world has become today many wrong deeds get away without any consequences, which in turn blocks their sensitivities to wrong deeds and makes them uninvolved.
- Increased “screen” time and less “feel” time.
Between facebook feeds, videos, text messages, Whatsapp chats, instagram feeds and Tumblr trails, we lose focus. To handle this plethora of information the brain develops filters to screen out some information, and unfortunately most of the times the emotionally expensive information doesn’t make it through the filter.
- Too much information and virtual experiences create a desensitizing effect
“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” – Herbet Simon
Loads of virtual experiences via YouTube short videos etc. do not really give the viewer connection time with emotions on the scene.
6 ways to develop empathy especially in the young and instilling more humaneness in them
- Encourage family bonding time, talk about your feelings with your kids, help them figure out and speak out their feelings. All feelings are ok – even the worst ones.
- Encourage hobbies in your children, let them pursue their passions. Art, sports, music all encourage emotional development and connection in people.
- Do not compare your kids with other kids, understand their uniqueness. Instill the thought process that – we all can win together. Encourage collaboration instead of unhealthy levels of competition.
- The use of technology is not harmful per se but the over use is. Balance screen time with people time equally.
- Make them visit the less fortunate, involve them in charitable causes and give them the opportunity to see the pain others go through.
- Instill the culture in your house that wrong actions do have appropriate consequences.
- “Making caring the basic norm”, instill this culture leading by example.
Empathy is a learnable skill, recent research done by researchers from University of Southampton and the University of Surrey have found that even narcissists can learn to empathize with others in the correct circumstances. The key is encouraging them to consider the situations from another’s point of view.
So let’s do our bit in making this world what it is meant to be. Let’s curb the decline of empathy and in fact embed it deep within ourselves and the coming generations.
I am not claiming empathy is the tool that can solve all the problems in the world, but it definitely is a very key ingredient to the solution.