Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion

Paul Bloom |  Non-Fiction

three-hearts

On page 4 of this book I was convinced.  It was like that moment when I said, “I am no training to people’s weaknesses in the corporate world, but only to their strengths.”  I made a radical shift.  I am no longer interested in developing someone's (or my own) empathy.  I am interested in developing their compassion.

Briefly, Bloom’s contention is that that problem with empathy – with feeling another’s feelings – is the spotlight nature of it.  He talks about empathy as having decidedly unsatisfactory traits:  narrow focus, innumeracy, bias, and specificity.  His argument is that empathy can lead us in quite the wrong direction, especially in society.  Feeling empathy towards another individual is always just that – it is individual. So if I work to solve your problem, it may very well be at the expense of a more strategic solution for a broader group.  I cannot feel empathy for the broader group – but I can feel compassion for the strangers I don't know.

Plus, what good does it do me to feel your pain? (Yes, it might do me good to feel your joy; that point is well-taken!)  If I actually FEEL your pain, as an empath, I can become immobile. Here is a quote form Tania Singer and Olga Klimecki, researchers in this arena:  “In contrast to empathy, compassion does not mean sharing the suffering of the other:  rather, it is characterized by feelings  of warmth, concern and care for the other, as well as a strong motivation to improve the other’s well-being. Compassion is feeling for and not feeling with the other.”  (page 138)

I heard Bloom interviewed on NPR and was eager to read this book.  It doesn’t take long to read – it is short and succinct (mostly).  Though I did have to wait a while for a copy to become available at the library!  If you are a coach, or a trainer, or a parent, or work in any way with the psychology, behaviors, or emotions of others, this is a must-read for you!

It fell from four hearts because the last two chapters seem like filler to me. I don’t know why they were included, unless Bloom's editor said that he needed more words!  If you read this book, I would especially like to hear your opinion on these last two chapters,  “Violence and Cruelty” and “Age of Reason.”

 

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