May 2, 2009

Kinds of Empathy

In his words describing a quality he sought for the person he will select to replace retiring Judge Souter on the Supreme Court, President Obama cited "Empathy." While Obama was a senator, he questioned John Roberts, now our Chief Justice, and said, in the course of things, that 5% of cases a Supreme Court justice hears will center on the justice's heart.

Daniel Goleman, author of Ecological Intelligence, tells us, in a recent Huffington Post piece, that there are three types of empathy, [thanks to C4 for this link!] which are these:
  • cognitive empathy, means that we can understand how the other person thinks; we see his point of view. This makes for good debaters, sales people and negotiators. On the other hand, people who have strengths in cognitive empathy alone can lack compassion - they get how you see it, but don’t care about you. Psychologists speak of the “Dark Triad” - narcissists, Machiavellians, and sociopaths, who can be slick with their arguments but have a heart of stone (think Dick Cheney).
  • emotional empathy, refers to someone who feels within herself the emotions of the person she’s with. This creates a sense of rapport, and most probably entails the brain’s mirror neuron system, which activates our own circuits the emotions, movements and intentions we see in the other person. This lets us feel with the other person - but not necessarily feel for, the prerequisite for compassion.
  • empathic concern, the third variety of empathy. Empathic concern means we not only understand how the person sees things and feels in the moment, but also want to help them if we sense the need. A study of empathic concern in seven-year-olds found that those who showed least concern when they saw their mother in distress were most likely to have a criminal record two decades later
Since it is important here, let me add something Goleman didn't provide:  a description of "compassion" (taken from wikipedia):
  • Compassion is a human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another's suffering. It is often, though not inevitably, the key component in what manifests in the social context as altruism. Compassion or karuna is at the transcendental and experiential heart of the Buddha's teachings. He was reputedly asked by his secretary, Ananda, "Would it be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is a part of our practice?" To which the Buddha replied, "No. It would not be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindness and compassion is part of our practice. It would be true to say that the cultivation of loving kindess and compassion is all of our practice."
Below, in a viddie, Daniel Goleman talks about empathy and what motivates it. He tells us of the importance not being rushed has in bringing to the fore our natural empathetic instincts. Of homelessness interest, at the end of the viddie, beginning at ~12:12, Goleman says this: ...Friday, at the end of the day, I was going down to the subway, it was rush hour, thousands of people were streaming down the stairs, when all of a sudden I noticed there was a man slumped to the side, shirtless, not moving, and people were just stepping over him, hundreds and hundreds of people. But because my urban trance had somehow been weakened I found myself stopping to find out what was wrong. The moment I stopped, half a dozen other people immediately stopped for the guy. And we found out he was Spanish, he didn't speak English, he had no money, he'd been wandering the streets for days, starving, and he'd fainted from hunger. Immediately, someone went to get orange juice, someone went to get a hotdog, someone brought a subway cop. This guy was back on his feet, immediately. All it took was a simple act of noticing. And so I'm optimistic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Tom, for sharing the TED video with Daniel Goleman.