The Feel-Good School of Philanthropy: letting go of empathy for any one victim

The same goes for empathy.

Psychologists, myself included, have argued that people choose when and with whom to empathize; for instance, we take the time to consider one person’s suffering while turning away from another’s.

It’s true that we often choose “easy” empathy, guiding our emotional energy toward people who look like us or whose suffering is well-publicized. But we have other options.

Once we decide to help those most in need, we can turn our empathy in their direction. For example, the University of Kansas professor C. Daniel Batson and his colleagues showed that people who deliberately take the perspective of distant others develop more compassionate attitudes toward them. Choosing empathy in this way aligns passion and principle.

By JAMIL ZAKI