Empathy means the ability to ‘feel with’ other people, to sense what they’re experiencing. It means moving beyond self-centredness and entering the mind-space of others. And in this respect, I believe empathy is one of the most important and beneficial human qualities.
Empathy negates cruelty and exploitation. It is very difficult to harm another person if you can sense the suffering that you may be causing them. You recoil from their experience of suffering in the same way that you recoil from your own suffering. In fact, normally one feels a strong impulse to relieve their suffering. In this way, empathy is the root of most of the behaviour that we associate with “goodness.” It’s the root of compassion and altruism, self-sacrifice and charity.
Steve Taylor is senior lecturer in psychology at Leeds Beckett University, UK.