It’s been a while since empathy — the uniquely human capacity to recognize and share the feelings experienced by others, that science even suggests is hardwired in us — when President Obama included it in the qualities he sought in a Supreme Court appointee, and conservatives from Glenn Beck to Sen. Jim Sessions. So I was surprised to see columnist David Brooks turn the spotlight on empathy again.
However, when I put it in the context of popular and growing movements like Occupy Wall Street and We are the 99 Percent, and even the movements in Wisconsin and Ohio, I was not surprised to see Brooks holding forth on the shortcomings of empathy. The success of these progressive movements constitute a powerful challenge to conservatives.
Brooks: “The problem comes when we try to turn feeling into action. Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action.
Empathy orients you toward moral action, but it doesn’t seem to help much when that action comes at a personal cost. You may feel a pang for the homeless guy on the other side of the street, but the odds are that you are not going to cross the street to give him a dollar.”
by terrance heath