Empathy is the capacity to recognize and even share feelings that other people are experiencing. Have you ever realized how problems tend to isolate people and how that feeling of isolation is almost worst than the problem that originated it? Knowing that you are not alone, that there is someone else who recognizes, understands and shares your feelings is essential in overcoming your problems. So, are human beings innately emphatic or do we have to make a conscious effort to feel other people’s pain? This takes us to the different conceptualizations of human nature.
The Medieval Christian world defined human nature as fallen and depraved and in need of salvation through God’s grace. But the modern concept of human nature is very different, greatly influenced by the Enlightenment views, which are even more depressing! More than 200 years ago, at the dawn of the modern market economy, John Locke, Adam Smith and other Enlightenment thinkers argued that human beings are essentially rational, detached, autonomous, acquisitive and utilitarian and seek individual salvation in their individual unlimited material progress on Earth. In summary: you are what you have, you’re defined by what you possess. With the emergence of the nation-state era came this notion that individuals, organizations and nations exist to essentially protect private property and fight for their own material gains.
This notion of Self intrinsically associated with possessions and success is dangerous. If human beings are this selfish, materialistic and individualistic we are in serious trouble!
Science gives us a different view of the neurological basis for empathy. Recent discoveries in brain science reveal that actually human nature is innately emphatic. Cognitive neuroscientists have recently discovered the empathy neurons (or mirror- neurons) that actually allow human beings to feel and experience other people’s situations as if they were their own.
Children as young as two-years old display the fundamental behavioural responses associated with an emotional response that corresponds with another person. When shown videos of other people suffering pain by coincidence, neural circuits related to pain are activated in their brain.
Social scientists are also studying how empathy played an essential role in human evolution. There is a growing body of scientific research to suggest that we are and have always been fundamentally an emphatic species.
We actually seek and need not just social interactions but intimate participation and companionship with other human beings. The power of harnessing our innate emphatic sensibility opens doors of opportunity to create new collaborative social spaces and establish a new global consciousness that can successfully fight the world economic crisis. The social, political and economic implications of such view of human nature are incredibly exciting...
Merry Christmas everyone and Happy New Year!