On Empathy: Obama’s, Cheney’s, and Ours

I’ve long advocated what I call “diffuse empathy”. People tend to take more of an interest in the sufferings of others when they can relate to an individual’s story, and see how much they have in common with that person. This can happen through personal acquaintance, through art, or even the news media. For example, movies such as “Schindler’s List” help us feel the abstract horror of genocide acutely by taking us into the lives of particular victims. The problem is that this makes our compassion contingent on the particular stories that happen to reach us. Thus, while it’s important to keep the awful history of the Holocaust in memory, tragedies going on right now – such as in Palestine, Yemen, – rarely seem to gain Hollywood’s attention….


If empathy can be likened to light, a diffuse glow extending everywhere is far better than a powerful but narrow beam focused on a select few, while leaving the rest of the world in darkness.


by Jon Reinsch