A lack of empathy

January 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Musing about societal ills in general, and to me, a lot of them seem to come from a general lack of empathy, or sympathy – an inability to make the compassionate leap needed to see the world through another’s eyes. And it manifests in manners both great and infinitesimal, from the lack of civility in our day to day experiences (cutting each other off in traffic, rudeness on public transit, the general inability to have polite discourse and civil disagreements) to allowing other human beings to suffer when such suffering is preventable. Our unwillingness to provide health care, our inability to grasp the crises of homelessness, the inability to survive (much less thrive) on our inadequate minimum wage (as has been said elsewhere many times, no one working two jobs should ever be living in poverty, but it’s not only easily possible, it’s outright common in modern America) – how a society treats those it considers the least among itself is a mirror of how it acts at every level and every stage.

It can get exhausting, admittedly. To try and care about every outrage and every horror paraded before us saps the strength, the will. But we’re not required to be martyrs, merely decent – there are choices we can make as a society that will have positive effects beyond their simple stated goals. Universal health care does more than simply provide medical treatment, it removes the stress shame and fear of illness, the nightmare that one bad day could ruin your life and the life of your family, drowned in bills that make saving your life seem to you more costly than just letting you die. No society should force its membership, no part of it, to contemplate at what point it would be more cost effective to die rather than seek medical treatment. To alleviate that stress is to show empathy for your fellows.

This empathy is needed in all walks of life and all concerns of the state. Almost any issue, from reading about police officers beating a man to death on down comes down to this lack of empathy, this lack of believing that the other human being you’re dealing with or seeing or hearing or reading is a fellow human being. Our skill at abandoning our shared humanity is stunning, expansive, and terrifying in its consequences.


We are human, and nothing and no one human is alien to us. I hope Terence can forgive me my paraphrase here.

§ One Response to A lack of empathy

  • Matthew Care says:

    A few months ago I horrible pain in my abdomen, the worst pain I’d ever felt in my life, but I didn’t (and still don’t) have insurance. I finally went to the hospital after my family convinced me. As it turns out, my appendix almost burst. A simple thing to fix, at least compared to other conditions. But if I’d left it untreated I could have died. I had my appendix removed, but my place of employment did not excuse my absences. And because I haven’t been working there for a year yet I didn’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act, which would have allowed me time off without losing my job. So I had to coerce the doctors office into signing a note that would allow to return to work in a limited capacity… four days after my surgery. It was painfully just to walk and stand, and I was expected to work in a manufacturing plant. And because none my absences were excuses, if I was even simply late one more time I would have been fired. And now I am saddled with thousands of dollars of medical bills I simply cannot pay. All of this while my girlfriend is pregnant with our daughter and we were set to move into a new apartment the week after my surgery.

    So yes, there is a definitive lack of empathy in the world and I have felt in poignantly.

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