Originally published May 2nd, 2012, I am especially proud of this article discussing decreasing empathy as a mental health problem. This article also appears in my upcoming book on poverty in America.
A Lack of Empathy Increased Self-Reliance at the Expense of Social-consciousness
It’s a mental health epidemic. It’s a change in how people conduct themselves socially. It’s been worsening every year since the 1980s. It has created enormous misery in our society. It is…our increasing lack of empathy for other people, our inability to “walk in another’s shoes.”
Declining empathy is one of those social subjects we all seem to be aware of on some level-yet rarely understand enough about to make the needed changes. Athttp://www.psychologyandsociety.com/empathydefinition.html we see a psychologist’s concept of empathy, “a vicarious emotional experience in which you feel and understand what another person feels…there are two elements of empathy: perspective taking (understanding what another person feels), and vicarious emotion (feeling what another person feels). ” This means that we not only experience another’s feelings (psychologists consider that “sympathy”) but truly UNDERSTAND where the other person is coming from. It is both a cognitive and emotional response to another person. In Wicca, psychic empaths experience another’s feelings and experiences very tangibly, often experiencing other people’s pains and sorrows more intensely than those people experience them on a conscious level, picking up on their unconscious and subconscious experiences in addition to the conscious ones each individual readily conveys.
This “feel within” experience is critical to our ability to help others. Entrepreneur Mark S. Birch discusses Empathy in American history in his article, “Empathy and the American Dilemma” (http://birch.co/post/11653486193/empathy-and-the-american-dilemma), describing the evolution of the American middle class and why the “Greatest Generation” experienced far more empathy for others than we do today. His article is an enlightening journey through history, helping us to understand how we moved from a culture of shared social responsibility to “generation me” where “greed is good.” The “Greatest Generation” was more empathic than we are today because of the common experiences everyone shared in the Great Depression and WWII which served as great social equalizers. Mark Birch describes that during depression, “People were standing in soup kitchen lines as equals. People worked alongside each other building the next generation of national infrastructure.” He goes on to describe how during the 1980s, “The political dynamic changed as well to reflect this growing self-reliance. This meant initiatives to lower taxes, shrink government, reduce regulation, and dismantle welfare policies.”
By the 1980s, our sense of caring and helping others that was forged so intensely by the shared experiences of the 1930s and 1940s had severely eroded. Now we live in “Generation Me” where greed is so pervasive and regulation so weak that, as it was during the 1920s (see PBS program “The American Experience episode “The Crash of 1929”http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/transcript/crash-transcript/), those who could manipulate financial systems and profit from them exploited them to the point where both housing and financial industries collapsed. After years of focusing on just ourselves, we are ill-equipped psychologically to help others, to put our profits, our wants, our interests aside and look at the world through someone else’s eyes. We see this in our daily lives in the increase of rudeness, the increase of casual violence, and even just our inability to maintain social relationships for long periods of time. We marry thinking we can make the other person serve our selfish interests-and when they don’t, we discard the relationship, divorce, and look for someone else.
Just think how much better your life could be if you and everyone around you learned what our parents, grandparents, and great grand parents from the Greatest Generation learned: we are all connected, every life is valuable, every life (human, plant, and animal) is precious, every viewpoint is valid. When we transcend our petty momentary desires, we find ourselves and our world enriched. Empathy evolved among humans because it fosters life. We need each other and we need communities. Let us all endeavor think before we speak, look at life through the view points of others, and care about those around us.