Building empathy

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Statistically the “me generation,” lack empathy. According to Time Magazine’s article “The Me Me Me Generation,” by Joel Stein, the lack of empathy goes hand in hand with the amount of time people spend on the internet on Face Time. “Millenials are interacting all day but almost entirely through a screen. You’ve seen them at bars, sitting next to one another and texting.” They want to know if something better is happening someplace else so they are always checking that out. They are deeply anxious about the reaction to the FB posts they put up. According to the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, starting in 1998, the creativity scores in children began to sharply decrease. But in 2000, scores in empathy fell sharply because “of both a lack of face-to-face time and higher degrees of narcissism. Not only do millenials lack the kind of empathy that allows them to feel concerned for others, but they also have trouble even intellectually understanding others’ points of view.”

Almost all writers would agree that the internet saps your creativity. Spending time on the internet or on the email is something you do instead of writing. But the worst distraction to writing for creative people is either texting or Facebook. Because there is a desire for the immediate gratification instead.

We all have been the person who isn’t talking to the person next to us because we were too busy texting or playing on Facebook. We have all ignored those closest to us because we were staring at a screen.

But, the question of empathy is this: Can you see this from some other point of view? Your family members, can you see things from their point of view, do you have a developed sense of other? That’s the question. Can you think about other people?

When our kids are young, they had enormous compassion, they felt sorry for bugs, frogs; they wanted to make us happy. They felt this huge empathy for us. What happens when kids hit their twenties and the screen becomes more important than members of their family?

A sense of other is what makes us human beings. We, as parents wanted to give our kids self esteem but it turns out that “self esteem is great for getting a job or hooking up a a bar but not so great for keeping a job or a relationship.” Having very high self esteem also means narcissism which also means a vast sense of entitlement. You are not entitled to have your parents stay in touch with you. You are not entitled to have your kids stay in touch with you. No one is entitled to love. Too much self esteem leads kids to be disappointed in life. Caring about other people—kindness, is terribly under-rated.

Published in: on June 23, 2013 at 1:25 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. Provoking thoughts.

    If I choose to pay attention to what my father is saying in a particular moment about his childhood and ignore the feeling of a text message vibrating the phone against my thigh, I am making an empathetic choice. If my family chooses to not open any electronic device until 2pm for several days in a row, so that we may spend time together on a once-a-year vacation, then we are creating space for empathy.

    We must choose how to distribute our attention. By attention I mean to “attend” which evokes a meaning of focused care. Care is a component of empathy.

    We have the power to choose. This short interview with Clay Johnson (author of “The Information Diet”) is particularly apropos. Ever heard of email apnea?

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