Empathy of a Child
Humans have a drive to belong.  In is intimately wrapped with empathy.  From the time a 2 year old can look in the mirror and recognize themselves, they can then identify with others.  As a child becomes aware of suffering and mortality, their sense of empathy can be exercised through their mirror neurons.  

Empathy has Expanded

They can develop solidarity with others.  Being empathetic does not create utopia.  Empathy can result in action to relieve the suffering of others.  That is compassion and love.  In the last 10,000 years peoples empathy and solidarity has expanded.  In early times it extended to family groups and villages.  It was tribal.  As agriculture developed and trade between people developed, it expanded.  As religious groups expanded, people identified with a wider group.  As transportation and trade expanded, larger areas developed into nations and people have become more and more identified with national identity.  

Be a Role Model of Empathy
Can empathy extend to the whole human race and overcome narcissism, materialism, violence, and aggression?  Empathy can be repressed by our parenting, education, business practices, and government.  It starts with us as parents and in our choices of how we live our lives.  Our children will identify with their role models, us.


Please feel free to comment.

Dave Hutt, www.dmddigitalphot.com
The "prodigal son" is a study in empathy, compassion, and judgement.  With which character do you empathize?  The righteous son who dutifully stays and works with his father?  The same righteous son who objects when his brother’s return is celebrated? The father whose son asks for his inheritance and when his wish is granted, the son spends it on prostitutes and gambling?  The same father who welcomes his errant son back?  The errant son who spends his inheritance having a wonderful time then regrets it?  The same errant son who returns to his father and is forgiven?  I could judge each of them foolish.  I can also identify with each circumstance and that leads me to question my judgmental feelings.  With the compassion of the father as the key, I can empathize and forgive both brothers.  The unsettling part is that I don’t know what the righteous brother ultimately did.  And perhaps that is the point.  What would you do?


photo by Dave Hutt, www.dmddigitalphoto.com

A new Pope was selected in Rome today.  He is notable for several reasons.  He is a South American.  He is a Jesuit.  He started his career as a scientist, a chemist (I certainly like that fact).  He chose the name Francis (the first time that name has been used).  He is not a Vatican bureaucrat.   I think what is most remarkable is the way he has lived his life.  He has eschewed any luxury afforded him by his office as Cardinal of Buenos Aires.  He traveled by public transport, bus mostly.  When he needed to fly, he traveled coach.  He lived in a small, spare apartment.  He spent much of his time visiting and ministering to the poor in Argentina.  That does suggest that he felt it important to have a connection, be empathetic, with the people.  He has spent most of his life either teaching or being a pastor.  Although recognized as a talented intellectual, he has spent his time with the people.  That all sounds promising.  No matter what your faith, the Pope is an influential world leader.





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How do I know what a patient really wants?  I don’t.  Not at first.  Often times they have a better idea what they don’t want.  They may know what they want treatment to do for them but they may not know what treatment will actually do it or what treatment would be optimal.  If the doctor doesn't ask, then the desired result may not be stated and can only be guessed.  This lack of clarity sometimes creates a fuzzy cloud of confusion regarding what the outcome of treatment should be. The doctor and patient can have very different expectations. That can lead to an unhappy patient and doctor.  Allowing a patient to clarify before any treatment is performed is the key.  Listening and asking appropriate questions can lead to answers regarding the desired outcome.  What does that take?  Curiosity, empathy, and respect for the patient’s wishes. 


Photograph by Dave Hutt, www.dmddigitalphoto.com

Does good lead to more good?
Must mental morality scales
balance good and bad?
Our ethical mindset is the key, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.  Gert Cornelissen of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and colleagues found that people who have a Machiavellian mindset are more likely weigh their good deeds against their bad deeds, while those who have a personal code are more likely to have  consistency in their behavior, even if that behavior is bad. 

What does this mean?  If human nature tends to moral relativism, situational ethics tends to amorality, and internally set morality rules lead simply to consistent morality that maybe anywhere on the spectrum, one would come to the conclusion that an external moral compass is the logical, sensible, and necessary guide.  As I have posted in the past, my belief is that humans are inherently empathetic, with built-in mirror neurons that allow living in social situations.  These tendencies are influenced by experience based interpretation.
The individual instinctually sets up a set of rules for survival.  If compassionate behavior is the goal, then teaching relevant values within a moral system is the our responsibility if the desired outcome is a just, loving, and compassionate world. 


G. Cornelissen, M. R. Bashshur, J. Rode, M. Le Menestrel. Rules or Consequences? The Role of Ethical Mind-Sets in Moral Dynamics. Psychological Science, 2013

A Ford dealer named Lee Kemp had the vision to create a testing tool that would allow him to select the most successful sales people.  After significant time and investment, his research revealed the personality characteristics that were most predictive of an sales person being an excellent team member in his dealership.  There were four primary traits.  First, they needed to be motivated, energetic, and enthusiastic.  Second, they needed to be curious about people.  Third, they needed confidence and good judgement when helping customers make decisions.  Fourth, and perhaps most important, they needed empathy.  It is an uncommon talent to understand customers.  That talent allowed them to address stated and unstated desires.  The customer got what they wanted and they felt good about the process.

Compassionate auto sales.






Dan Olweus created a definition of bullying used around the world today: Bullying must involve physical or verbal abuse delivered repeatedly, over time, and feature a power imbalance.    Part of the etiology is immaturity and a need to impress peers by belittling others.  It can happen at any age. There is an essential lack of empathy and compassion in the behaviors.  Bullying has been a classic historical issue in childhood and continues to be a problem.  It is much more visible in recent times with the advent of social media.  It cannot be escaped by going home from school.  It is more of a problem then ever before.

Emily Bazelton’s book, Sticks and Stones, was just published, February 2013.  It explores what is known about bullying. 

She suggests what can be done to better understand and address situations before they turn tragic.