About a week before Christmas, LiveScience published an article reviewing two studies suggesting “… that our brains prompt us to act more like Santa than Scrooge. (Id. at Your Giving Brain: Are Humans Hardwired for Generosity? by Mindy Weinberger (December 19, 2016.).) Based on two different research experiments, the researchers concluded that “… human behavior is guided more by empathy and generosity than by selfishness.” (Id.)
This got me thinking that perhaps a good New Year’s resolution would be to allow our innate instincts to guide us and become more empathetic towards others and more generous in forgiving others for “perceived” wrongs. A recent New York Times article nicely explains the difference between sympathy and empathy and how the latter arose:
Empathy, after all, is not sympathy. Sympathy encourages a close affinity with other people: You feel their pain. Empathy suggests something more technical — a dispassionate approach to understanding the emotions of others. And these days, it often seems to mean understanding their pain just enough to get something out of it — to manipulate political, technological and consumerist outcomes in our own favor.
“Empathy” first arose to explain our relationship to objects, not to other human beings. The word comes from the German einfühlung (ein for “in” and fühlung for “feeling”), a concept in 19th-century aesthetics. Einfühlung described the act of “feeling into” art and nature, or projecting yourself into an aesthetic object. Soon “empathy” came to describe how human beings related to one another as objects: Like modern neuroscience, it looked for the roots of human emotions in “the material body and the interworking of its parts,” in the study of “muscles and nerves.” This turn toward “empathy” let people cast off the cultural baggage of “sympathy,” a word suddenly seen as soaked in sentimentality, tied up with ideas of Christian virtue, moral obligation and pity. The Indiana University professor Rae Greiner, author of a book about sympathy in 19th-century fiction, has written that by the dawn of the 20th century, “sympathy seemed to belong to the Victorians, empathy to us.”
(“Is Empathy Really What the Nation Needs? “By Amanda Hess, New York Times Magazine, Nov 29, 2017)( Emphasis original.)
Like the rest of our decision making, “…empathy is naturally irrational”. (Id.) Yet, it does have value in attempting to resolve any conflict.
Another New York Times article entitled “ Conflict at Work? Empathy Can Smooth Ruffled Feathers by Phyllis Korkki (October 8, 2016) explains:
…misunderstandings often exist between the victims of harm and the people who committed the harm. In many cases, the transgressors did not intend a negative effect, whereas the victims tended to think that the damage was intentional. In addition, transgressors frequently felt guilty and wanted to be forgiven much more than their victims realized.
When someone feels wronged, it can help to actively empathize with the person who is perceived as the wrongdoer…. That can enable the victim to realize that the transgressor may well wish to be forgiven….
…In a conflict, the people involved almost always have a different interpretation of events…. This is partly because we have a built-in tendency as humans to think that we are good people, and also that we are right.
How often have we all seen this play out? More times than not, two (or more) parties approach a conflict, each believing that they, respectively, are absolutely (or almost absolutely!) correct and the other party is wrong (or at least more so than they are). Until a neutral third party steps in and suggests that each view the situation from the OTHER PARTY’S perspective, rarely do the disputants consider this as an option. They tend to be myopic or single minded. However, once they step back and consider how their own respective narrative looks from the other person’s viewpoint, they begin to realize that there may be gaps in their thinking. And with those gaps, comes enlightenment in the sense that THERE is more than one way of looking at the conflict and perhaps common ground can be found. It is not simply “I am right and you are wrong”, but rather somewhere in between.
So… my wish for the New Year is that in approaching any conflict, we do so with empathy and be generous in our forgiveness of one another.
Happy New Year…. I hope each of you have a healthy and happy 2017!
… Just something to think about.
Copyright 2017© Phyllis G. Pollack and www.pgpmediation.com, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Phyllis G. Pollack and www.pgpmediation.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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