Evil in the American Justice System
Empathy: The Enemy of Evil
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 as algebra."

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.