|Empathy is an "act of great sophistication" necessitating
the imagination of the beginning, middle, and possible end of another human
being. It has variously been described as a "capacity," a "behavior,"
a "mode of observation," and as "an information-gathering activity."
Websters International Dictionary defines empathy as "the capacity for
participating in or vicariously experiencing another's feelings."
Researchers believe that empathy is developed at an early
age through the repeated pairing of a child's feelings with the feelings
of caregivers. The capacity can be further developed throughout childhood.
In his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman identifies empathy
as one of the five "domains" of emotional intelligence. He looks
forward to the day that "empathy will hold as valued a place in the curriculum
Empathy jars us out of thoughtlessness and forces us to
consider the human consequences of our actions. It causes remorse.
It is the great enemy of evil.
Empathy levels vary between individuals and between cultures.
Empathy levels are determined in part by genetics and are in part a function
of culture. Measured levels of empathy, according to anthropologist
Ronald Cohen, are highest in North America and Europe. Lowest empathy
levels are reported in regions with loose family structures, large family
size, low levels of affluence, and high child mortality rates--factors
that reduce opportunities for (or discourage) close parent-child bonding.
In general, people empathize most readily with persons
whom they share common characteristics. (Some writers have
identified empathy as the "source of racism" because of evidence suggesting
that people have higher levels of empathy for others of the same race or
ethnicity.) Literature, film, art, and good education are capable of deepening
and extending outward--and that's the key--the reach of our empathy as
they help us understand our common humanity.
Increasing levels of empathy is one tool for fighting
evil, but there are others as well.