Can Patriotism Be Compassionate?

Feeling ambivalent about the Fourth of July? New psychological research points to how we can feel authentic pride for our country—and still be citizens of the world.


The argument for a narrow, self-interested patriotism starts with the idea that there is only so much good feeling to go around—and that therefore we need to ration fellow-feeling for those closest to us.


But more and more studies reveal that this premise is false. “In my research, I have found that the limits of empathy are actually quite malleable,” writes psychologist C. Daryl Cameron in “Can You Run Out of Empathy?” His studies find that people will ration their empathy and compassion for the in-group when they worry help for the out-group will be too costly or ineffective….:


People’s expectations about empathy can have powerful effects on how much empathy they feel, and for whom. Identification with all humanity is an empirically documented individual difference that predicts more empathic emotion and behavior. And research with mindfulness interventions suggests that training people to approach, rather than avoid, their emotional experiences can decrease fear of empathy and increase pro-social behavior.


By Jeremy Adam Smith