Empathy is the ability to feel what the other person is feeling.
Beautiful meaning. Some even choose this quality to measure how "civilized" we are. The true yardstick of civilization. Not Technology, not cleanliness, not punctuality, but something broader that is inclusive of all of these things.
We clean our McDonalds messes only because we care how others coming after us to sit on the same table will feel. We care not to disgust them.
We choose to be punctual and On-time because we think to ourselves how annoyed and frustrated they would feel to be waiting for our late selves.
Even technology is a form of caring about others. The scientist or inventor goes through long and arduous efforts to come up with a new idea, and then implement it in the real world and make it commercially viable. What drives him/her to do it? to use the invention himself? to make his own life a tiny bit easier he would spend years of his life? doesn't make sense. Curiosity? Recognition? nowadays most pioneering inventions are only possible through large collaborative groups rather than individuals. The time of Great Singular Inventors is long gone with the 1800's and early 1900's. What drives technology these days in my opinion is the desire to do good. pure and simple. You hear it often said by innovators as "The gift to the future". Which is very apt because most likely the fruits of such advancements will not be felt in the present, but in the future. So Technology is also a form of Empathy.
Almost every form of Good-doing has to involve in its core the ability to "feel what the other person is feeling". Put yourself in their shoes. Feel their pain and misery. Once you do feel it, you'll start to act, not before. The action comes almost as a way of saving yourself from the pain you're feeling through others, through Empathy.
But again, why do we Empathize? true, lots of people DO know that when they empathize they will be inclined to do the right thing. But, people can learn from that experience and later choose NOT to empathize. They can choose to say "to hell with it, I don't want other people's headaches, I've got enough of my own.". Often I hear women (because I think they have a lesser defense against empathy) say "please don't tell me about that painful story.", or how my wife gets seriously troubled when she sees someone getting beaten or shot in a movie, because she can't help but "feel too much" for them. It disturbs her. Really gets to her.
Often you hear lawyers talking in a movie about a person on trial, about how it would be wise for the defense to mention the defendant's name, or bring his mother to the trial. They say this tactic helps force the jury to think of him as a "person", which causes them to empathize with him, and this way they'll be more capable of understanding the circumstances through his eyes, and therefor may be able to excuse him of ill intent.
Is Empathy "always" a good thing to do? I think so. yes. Even if it was a murderer or a rapist? yes I believe so. I do think that usually we can't over-do it. We have our limits. Up to a certain point where we refuse to subject ourselves to other people's pains anymore. We refuse to suffer emotionally as they suffer. And ofcourse we have every right to shield ourselves. Mo malzomeen.
I can go on and on about this.. it is perhaps one of the things that affect me the most when I think about my own sense of morality. And I am VERY lacking in my ability to empathize. But its already a very long post.
So what do YOU think?