What We Have Here is a Failure to Empathize

A study from a few years ago shows that college kids are forty percent less empathetic than their counterparts from twenty or thirty years ago.  This is incredibly disheartening.  Not only because forty percent less empathy is a severe drop, but because I am from their counterpart group from twenty years ago and I can tell you, there ain’t much empathy in my generation either.

There are all sorts of suggested causes for the drop:  Social media, video games, increased exposure to media, being too busy.  I don’t buy any of these.  I think if they did a study of all ages, they’d find that the United States as a whole as dropped forty percent in empathy.

The United States has developed a really bizarre form of tribalism.  We spend our teenage years torn between wanting to be an individual and needing to belong to a group.  Most of the time, the need overpowers the want and we give up our individuality and ability to be introspective in order to belong to a group.  But once we’re in a group, a strange dynamic occurs.  We don’t concern ourselves with the daily sufferings of our fellow members.  Instead, we focus all our energy on maintaining the existence of the group.  Any criticism of the group thus results in an all-out-of-proportion backlash on said critics.  It doesn’t matter how pertinent this criticism may be, a wave of anger and hatred must rise up to smash down on any mortal who dare question the group.  And woe to the member of the group who dares question her own!

The best defense against falling into this sort of tribalism is to question yourself.  It sounds like an easy thing to do, but we are best at lying to ourselves.  We have all had those moments in life where we look back on an event and say to ourselves, “What was I thinking?”  But we somehow never make the connection that we are lying to ourselves.  So, when we question ourselves, it’s also important to then ask if we are being truthful with ourselves too.

This, I believe, is where the old adage “the truth shall set you free” comes from.  It’s not learning the truth about people or places or things.  It’s learning the truth about yourself.  Know yourself and you shall know enlightenment.

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