How do you create more empathy in the world we live in? What are sources of empathy in individuals? What are degrees of empathy?
These are some of the questions I have been exposed to after my interactions with http://www.emotion.is founders Raul San Narciso (@raulsann) and his new co-founder Jim Kleiber.
While empathy could be considered as one of the innate human responses, we wondered if all empathy is created equally. There are many types of empathies such as cognitive, emotional and compassionate; I want to talk about sources of empathy and degrees of empathy.
Sources of Empathy:
Broadly, empathy could come from nature (genetic or innate) or nurture (our surrounding and environment).
Along the lines of genetic (based on a certain types of genes) and nurture (environment in which a child grows), there is some research suggesting that humans innately have empathic responses without any specific genetic signatures. This is evident in infant empathetic responses (almost universal); Chimpanzees – closest cousins to early humans also demonstrate such empathetic behavior. I feel this source of empathy is the most debated as there is some research that concludes that advanced human emotions such as empathy (along with love & compassion) can only be learned through experience – unlike fear and basic rages are present inherently in all of us right from birth.
Nurture as a source can be further divided into two categories – most common being structured parental and societal influence on children. Apart from that, specific or heightened exposure of empathy and compassion due to situations such as ancestral charitable history or specific situation or circumstance in the childhood could also be a source of empathy. This second category is situational and varies based on the context.
So at a high level these are the sources of empathy –
- Nurture (Structured & situational)
- Nature (Innate human nature)
- Genetic (Specific genetic signature)
Degrees of Empathy
As all empathy is not created equal, our own degrees of empathy also vary based on many factors. For example our individual state of mind and individual perceptions, biases, prejudices also play an important role in our empathetic responses. Value attribution can also alter your level of empathy towards an individual or situation and we also see parities in response levels based on individual’s gender – women tend to be more empathetic than men in certain situation and women tend to be more empathetic to men than men to their fellow men.
Value attribution is very inherent in how we deal with certain empathetic situations. For example, its been proven that pretty women get a faster road side assistance from total strangers than an older looking gentlemen.
Individual and personal biases towards others or situations also plays a very critical role in our level of empathy.
Broadly, degrees of empathy can be based on following –
- Gender (Women tend to be more empathetic than men)
- Individual state of mind (more happy in your life, more empathetic to others)
- Value attribution (More better looking you are, more empathy you get from others)
- Individual biases and prejudices
Empathy: Where to?
Despite our natural and environmental exposures towards empathy, materialist societies, individualism and undue sense of entitlement are somehow casting a blind eye towards empathy. For example, in most metropolitan cities there are fewer people who stop and help you on the street than a decade ago. There is more animosity, hatred and crimes of prejudice today than ever before.
Maturing industrial era paved way for information age, automation & innovation – which bolstered individual freedom and independence. Even though societies and communities as a whole come together at various levels, individuals are less dependent on their fellow human beings. This independence and lack of need to interact with your fellow human beings in our day-to-day activities is certainly putting some pressure on our empathetic responses. While virtual (online) communities such as Facebook and its clones have allowed us to keep in touch with these emotions in cyberspace, no one knows the long-term impact of these virtual communities.
Can we collectively increase empathy in the world around us? If a startup wants to solve this problem, how would they approach to solve this and where would they start?
Raul & Jim are committed to make a difference in the world by giving much needed attention for empathy in our society.
Empathy can be embedded in the society via various methods and via various stages of human development. Parents and teachers need many more tools than what they have today to increase empathy in the current and future generations.
The biggest challenge for anyone to solve this problem is not about educating empathy but its fundamental importance and value at individual level as well as at societal level. When people in advanced societies are fairly independent and self sufficient, making them and their kids realize the importance and value of empathy is the daunting challenge.
As the technological innovation moves majority of our “needs” & “wants” to the realm of gadgetry & infrastructure reducing the need to interact, engage or depend on fellow human beings, as a society we should strive to protect and foster empathy – one of the core tenets of human relationships.
Surgeon General Warning about my lack of professional or educational background in the aspects of empathy apply to this post!