Is it true that we make better decisions without emotions? Antonio Damasio, in Descartes’ Error, provides a startling answer. Damasio examined the rare people who have lost their prefrontal lobes and the capacity to have emotions. While usually capable of impeccable and intelligent reasoning, such people are unable to make any decisions. Without the capacity to feel, to be guided by their emotions, these individuals become entirely dependent on the kindness of their families for navigating even the simplest daily choices. We can reason our way to most decisions, but without our emotions we lose the moral and practical compass for making sound ones.

Understanding the emotions of others involves emotional intelligence.  It is critical for anyone that needs to deal with others effectively.  In hearings confirming Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) referred to empathy as “touchy-feely stuff.” Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) asked Sotomayor, “Have you always been able to have a legal basis for decisions you have rendered and not rely on extralegal concepts such as empathy?”  These two senators as well as others in power need to realize that
pure rationality can lead to disaster.

In Modernity and the Holocaust, Zygmunt Bauman describes the Holocaust as a uniquely modern phenomenon rather than an eruption of irrational forces. He writes: “Mass destruction was accompanied not by the uproar of emotions, but the dead silence of unconcern.” “The Holocaust did not just, mysteriously, avoid clash with the social norms and institutions of modernity. It was these norms and institutions that made the Holocaust feasible.” Essentially, when people focus more on doing a good job and following orders than on the impact of their actions, their innate capacity for empathy ceases to function as a moral compass that guides moral action.

--excerpted from The Importance of Empathy by BayNVC Co-Founder Miki Kashtan

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