Thursday, November 22, 2012

Lack of Empathy Is Not a Lack of Caring

When we hear that someone lacks empathy, most of us automatically think that the person doesn't care about the well-being of anyone else.  I used to think the same way, but then I met a close friend who does not experience empathy or emotions the way that a lot of people do, and who does believe that other people's experiences matter.  Empathy can be a helpful quality, but a lack of empathy is not a lack of caring.

Let's say that your friend is disappointed about not getting into the school play. Most people can relate to something like this, and would be understanding toward their friend. Now let's say your friend is still very upset a month later. At this point, people stop understanding and tell their friend to get over it. Why? Because now, not as many people can relate. Those people who put themselves in their friends' shoes at first are now thinking "I wouldn't be so upset if that happened to me." Most of the time, when we put ourselves in someone else's position, we don't put ourselves into the person's mindset.  We put ourselves, with our own mindsets, into the other person's situation. Putting yourself in someone else's position can be helpful in understanding the person, but sometimes our need to relate someone on an emotional level can prevent us from accepting others' experiences that we can't relate to at all.

Empathy is one way to understand someone, but it's not the only way.  You can also understand things from a logical, non-emotionally-attached viewpoint that if something is hurting someone, then that thing is a problem and needs to be fixed.  The lack of emotional attachment can mean accepting the other person's mindset and not taking into account whether you would feel the same way in that situation.  A person who does not experience empathy can care about what other people are going through just as much as someone who is very empathetic.

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