The Empathy Exams review – thought-provoking essays on our emotional boundaries

What is the purpose of empathy? Why do we feel another’s pain and what happens to us when we do? This debut collection of thought-provoking essays blends an abundance of biological facts, literary and historical references, and deeply felt personal experience as it engrossingly explores how and why we relate to someone else’s suffering.

Imagining themselves into the pain of others is what Jamison and the other “medical actors” in the opening essay must do, “playing sick” so that medical students can guess their maladies and be examined on them.

These “empathy exams” trigger wider comment about how each of us throughout life interprets others’ pain.

But what is the price we pay for absorbing the suffering of others? Or is it valuable – indeed necessary – for us to do so?

by Anita Sethi