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Thursday, January 12. 2017
I am not delving into the psychology of empathy. I'm not trained in it, and I don't know enough to make a statement from that position. I can, however, write about its effect on my own experiences, from my own therapy, and from a recent event which sparked a challenging debate.
That event was Meryl Streep's Golden Globes acceptance speech. I watched about 5 minutes of it, then left. Because I can, and I chose to. While I agreed with a bit, there was far more there than I was interested in hearing. To begin with, I don't watch award shows, I happened to switch it on at just that moment and thought I'd like to see her receive her award. If I am going to watch an awards show, I want to be entertained, not lectured. I turned it off. I did read the text the next day when the brouhaha around it began. Mainly because New York, the center of 'if you disagreed with her, you're insane and wrong and must have something wrong with you' began to show its ugliness. In other words, "Hillary lost and WE STILL HAVE NO CLUE HOW AND WHY IT HAPPENED SO WE MUST LASH OUT!" Meryl was offered a moment to lash out, and she did. Following some kind of empathic tribal code, her supporters rushed to demonize anyone who didn't 'feel' the same way Meryl did.
Before rejecting what Meryl had to say, I'll point out what I agreed with. I do agree Trump needs to show more decorum, and engage better behavior, if he wants to be a good president. He is thin-skinned and often disrespectful. It's unbecoming. I also agree the press does need to pay attention to what is happening and remain vigilant, and maintain its proper role as the Fourth Estate - a role it has given up in the last 20-odd years, unless a Republican is in office. I agree the press and foreigners play an important role in society. I agree we need to be civil toward each other, and not act like bullies. If these simple statements were made, I'd have said "Nice speech."
But she said so much more. The issue isn't just that she said more, but also where she said it from, and how she positioned herself in saying it. I was left to think "Just who the hell does this person think they are? They can't really be serious. How can she represent so many positions?" Turns out she can't, but believes she can.
The forum was wrong. Most Americans watch to be entertained, not preached at. Meryl struck out with a good portion of her audience before she started. Empathy is critical when choosing what to say to a group. Presumably, I lack empathy (I am told I do) and my ability to say the right thing at the right time is often impaired. But actors rely on empathy. It's essential to successful performance. So how did an actor with so much empathy misread her larger audience so badly? How can I, with little or no ability to understand empathy, realize she was picking the wrong forum? It's a minor point, perhaps. She has the right to say what she wants whenever she wants, and certainly her Hollywood friends will support her 100% even if they know she was terribly wrong. I will always defend her rights, and her friends will defend her regardless. Still, it boggles their mind that anyone would be angry with what she said. It boggles my mind their minds are boggled.
Streep then positioned herself (or the acting community), reporters, and foreigners as 'outsiders' - really, as outcasts. Somehow they were being ignored, shunted aside, and otherwise vilified. They were all suddenly 'dissidents'. Yet here she was, with millions of primetime viewers, on a worldwide stage, making a point about how these voices weren't being heard or listened to. Curious in the extreme. I understand someone (is this empathy?) feeling left out if their choice in an election wasn't chosen. But that hardly means you're an outsider. There's always a loser in an election - often more than one. Not all are outsiders or outcasts, in fact almost none are. She claimed herself to be the spokesperson for those whose voices were not being heard. Meanwhile, until Election Day, she was relatively certain her voice was going to be heard loud and clear. What changed? Nothing. She is no outsider, she just wants to be.
Finally, she lashed out at Trump supporters, insinuating that some of his behaviors 'permissioned' them to behave poorly. But I saw plenty of bad behavior on the part of Hillary supporters after the election. Were they 'permissioned'? Is this even a thing? If we need to discuss 'permissioning', isn't Hollywood far more guilty of 'permissioning' bad behavior than a single outrageous political candidate? Don't more people go to see bad behavior exhibited, and at times glorified, in Hollywood films? How did his behavior or speech cause anyone to behave any differently than they usually do?
In other words, Meryl's lack of empathy was astounding. Her inability to understand why others did not vote as she did leads her to make odd accusations and create false memes to help herself cope. In her speech she exhibited everything that is wrong with Democrats right now. A complete misunderstanding of what empathy is, and what it's meant to be used for. For them, empathy is only understanding how they feel - they really don't give a damn how you feel. Which is fine by me, because when it comes to politics, I don't let my feelings get in the way. I need facts, not feelings. Call me a heartless bastard, but using empathy to create a moral high ground from which to pass judgement on those you deem lacking empathy? That is new to me. It's uniquely fascistic, but I've seen this become more common. It is frequently used in the workplace to chastise managers who try to get more out of Millenials. We're simply not being "empathetic" about who they are.
Which brings me to my therapy. Empathy is something I've worked on, since I really have a hard time understanding it. I don't lack it, really. I just don't exhibit it or engage it well. I sense other people's feelings, I just don't tend to worry about them too much, because I don't expect them to worry about mine. This creates massive communication problems at work. Not so much with people who know and understand me, mostly with people who are unfamiliar with what makes me tick. I am considered distant. I've been told I believe I'm a thought leader (I've never tried to be or said I was), I've been told I'm condescending (I simply tell people what they need to hear to get the job done). So I do work on trying to present a less of these traits. This takes tremendous effort on my part, and when I do it I can't help but feel insincere.
However, I'm told (by my HR department and my therapist) that it's part of my job to understand others and how they feel. OK, I'm on board, I always try to take others' feelings into account in a given situation. My standard response remains "At what point do they take the time to understand me and how I feel?" My therapist says that's not for me to worry about. I can only control myself. I agree. However, while empathy is a one-way street, I find it difficult to engage when I don't see my counterpart utilizing it. And boy, did I see Meryl not paying heed at all.
I'll keep working on empathy, I suppose. I've been told my genes probably are what prevent me from showing empathy. I doubt it, since I know what it is and I do use it. We've reached a point where society has placed empathy on some kind of 'higher moral plane' than logic and reason, and that's what bothers me. I say this because in my discussion with friends about Meryl's speech, I was admonished with the comment that "Empathy is important, and actors show more empathy than others because it is essentially their main tool. You're not showing empathy for her feelings and the message she was sharing if you disagree with her."
If empathy is pure feeling, and follows no rhyme or reason, and needs none, then I accept I'm in error. Convince me of this, though, because I simply can't buy into that point of view. I've tried to get a handle on this concept, and my therapist has told me the reason I can't grasp it is that I don't want to understand. Actually, I do. But if it's not a reasoned response, I can't accept it. Just saying "it's up to you, and don't worry about them" doesn't cut the mustard.
Maybe I really don't understand empathy at all. But here's where I've started to come around in understanding it. I don't lack it, but I certainly don't embrace it all the time, and maybe not even enough of the time. But that doesn't mean there's something wrong with me if I don't. Yet in every discussion where I try to employ reason, I'm told to show a little empathy. Why? Utilizing it may temper my words a bit, and make them more acceptable to a few people, but large portions of meaning will be lost. When I do employ it, it's often turned on its head and used to try and make me change positions. A reasoned position won't match how I should 'feel'. When I don't employ it, I'm "uncaring and heartless." A moral judgement is passed based on whether or not you show the right kind of empathy.
Empathy is an overused term, and it's often misused to create a sense of accountability where none is required. It is something I need to continue working on, but I'm now thinking attempts to employ it are better suited for time and place situations, rather than constantly. I just will have to accept that I'll always be considered the 'bad guy' in conversations which require rational thought as opposed to empathic response.
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Empathy is a funny thing. My father was a kind and a good man, but almost completely lacked empathy. He was simply incapable of perceiving another's viewpoint. He was extremely intelligent, but did not know me any better when I was 40 than he did when I was 4. I don't have his brainpower, but I have been given a bit more breadth of vision. I guess it all evens out in the end.
I thoroughly commend your position and your analysis of Streep's lack of empathy.
To understand all is not to forgive all, and that skewers the empathy fallacy.
Rationality is a vital ingredient in addressing what the Universe throws at us. Peoples' feelings matter because hurt feelings are hurt, but they don't trump everything else. Better to upset your spouse by hurling her to the ground than allow her to be run over by a passing car. Better to shoot the cuddly polar bear than allow it to eat your son.
Surely empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in the other fellow's shoes. Still, you might imagine yourself in his shoes and still think he's being an awful schmuck, and be quite right, too.
For that matter, you might accurately assess the strains he's under, acknowledge that you would likely behave badly in that situation, too, and still be justified in continuing to pursue the line of action you've determined on, over his heartfelt objections. In that case, one hopes that empathy would preserve you from the error of proceeding spitefully, without inhibiting you from proceeding at all.
Forget that word. It adds nothing.
My rule of thumb is to put myself in somebody else's moccasins for a minute, and then to get back in my own.
The more I care about somebody in my life, the more difficult it can be to get out of their moccasins. That is a challenge for me. It damages proper boundaries.
Professionalism in the workplace is an entirely different topic, I think. Doesn't every workplace need a tough guy, a Bad Cop, somebody who calls 'em like they see 'em?
Well, each workplace has its own culture, I spose. But I don't work on Maggie's Farm no more...
Hollywood people are airheads, bubbleheads. Everybody knows that. She was amazing in Devil Loves Prada. Talent does not equal brains.
You'd think every workplace needs those things. I believe it does.
Today, though, the 'modern' workplace frowns on the tough guy.
My new supervisor, in telling me what she thought I represented myself as, began by saying "I don't know any other way to say this to you, so I'll just say it. Don't get angry with me because I don't know how you're going to respond and I can't say it in a nice way." She then proceeded to tell me what she thought of me. Nothing bad, exactly, but some highly presumptuous comments based not on getting to know me, but by asking other people what they thought of me.
I didn't take any of it badly. I simply responded "I'm not going to defend myself. If that's how people see me, that's how they see me. But let me ask you this. If I'm positioning myself as a thought leader, where are my published works? If I'm pursuing my own best interests, and not the company's, why have I not benefited? If I'm promoting particular vendors which I have personal relationships with, why have none been contracted with the company?"
She was silent for a moment and said "Perhaps you're right. I'm simply trying to tell you how you're perceived. You have to put yourself in other peoples' positions in order to understand why you're perceived that way."
No I don't. I can't spend every waking moment trying to figure out how 15 different people in a room are perceiving me. And if they're getting the wrong impression, maybe it's because they can't make their own minds up (like my supervisor) and just ask someone else what they think, and engage in group think.
Empathy isn't a bad word. It's just misused and misunderstood. I like how you've described it. Hop into the moccasins, then hop out. But in the modern workplace, you're expected to live in everyone else's skin.
Solution: start your own company, dude.
You will need no HR people until you get really big.
Easier said than done. Always a dream, though.
Waiting for a friend of mine's startup to actually start up. Then maybe I'll have the chance.
In the meantime, I recognize I have to adhere to my employer's rules and guidelines. However, a good employer pays attention to their employees'' commentary. A good employee knows better than to say anything. It's a no-win situation.
I've always been told I lack empathy. It used to bother me but then I realized I really don't care enough about other people to act like I cared about them. People that know me have just gotten used to the idea that I'm kind of strange. "Blunt" and "rude" and "cranky old man" are other terms they use. But it's too much effort for me trying to guess what somebody really means when you've got words that are perfectly good for communicating. Flouncing around acting all snotty doesn't communicate "you've hurt my feelings" as well as just coming out and saying the words "you've hurt my feelings". Making me try to guess what you're really trying to communicate is imposing work on me I don't appreciate and I don't think you appreciate that you are imposing work on me. I speak English tolerably well, I don't speak whatever that eye-rolling, deep-sighing interpretive dance thing it is you got going on over there.
I've had similar experiences.
However, not "feeling" properly is now considered a bad thing. You're somehow deficient. I complained about this recently when I took an "Emotional IQ" course recently - that relying on emotion to guide a decision which requires rational thought and reason is dangerous and has potentially awful outcomes.
It's my belief we're suffering through the revenge of EST training in the 1970s. People who took those courses are now getting into positions of power and still think there's something meaningful in that BS.
that would have been a more interesting essay if you distinguished between cognitive and affective empathy. as for the first, it seems like you understand the loon streep's mental state very well.
As I said in the opening, I can't speak from any kind of professional knowledge base.
What is the difference and why is it important?
you don't need a professional knowledge base to intuit this, the same way you don't need a Climate Scientist to know it gets hot in summer.
cognitive empathy is understood to mean the ability to understand the emotional state of another, but, as the link given below states, "generally does not include any reference to caring about the other person". strep was emotionally invested in the hildabeest's win in a juvenile way, has an inflated sense of self importance and is acting like as stuck pig abandoned by her prom date. and I don't give a rat's ass. that's an example of cognitive empathy.
she expects me to understand and share her emotional state at Canckle's bitchslapping, she wants me to be emotionally empathetic and share her breakdown, and I'm not.
being cognitively empathetic and emotionally empathetic and responding appropriately is what keeps us from being asshats, and is a social skill at most adults (No.5 excepted) learn as we mature. e.g., someone's dog died, I barely know the guy, don't know the dog, but I understand he's hurt so I'm not going to make korean BBQ jokes today. that's an example of an appropriate kind of cognitive empathy. if I knew the beast (say I'd hunted with him), I'd feel bad for his owner and say something like, "that sucks, but he had a good life". that's appropriate emotional empathy.
I see what you mean.
I thought I was touching on the affective empathy in my discussion of the conversation I'd had with the person who believed Meryl was so wonderful.
He was trying to be 'nice' to me while telling me that he'd passed a moral judgement on my lack of empathy. I was having none of it.
I also thought I touched on it with my work experience. That's purely affective. Not that I'm an asshat at work - I don't walk around saying "Do this because I'm your Director and I don't care that your mom is sick." But I don't exactly spend time with people listening to their relationship problems, vacation stories or share information with them in a 'caring' fashion.
But maybe I missed the mark, mainly because I didn't realize the difference til you mentioned it.
streeep is unhinged and living in a circus where the entertainment press and her obsessed fans hang on her every word, and , so personally I wouldn't use her breakdown as as any kind of a test for empathy.
It wasn't her so much (though it was important) as it was the response to me by those who loved what she had to say.
Why can't I feel her pain? She was saying something positive, surely I can understand her point of view?
Yeah, I understand and agree with parts. Feel her pain? What pain? My guy didn't win either. But I'm not going to bitch and moan about it and then ask people to do the job they were supposed to be doing for so long, and haven't because the current resident of the White House is their man, to suddenly start doing their job.
She is unhinged. She's never been hinged (Alar).
why would you want to feel her pain? her pain is unhealthy. if she lost it election night, understandable, she's angry and hurt, and who'd be surprised at that?
but this is weeks after the fact. if she's not acting, she's headed for a stroke. she's a trainwreck. I like train wrecks, but I don't want to be in one.
you can understand her, but you don't have to become emotionally engaged, or wonder why you don't.
Empathy is like what can be fixed, what can be patched, and what needs to be replaced.
Very simple. Of course, that is just honesty and knowing limits.
I'm guessing Meryl's empathy was with the group in front of her, because they were there, and her kind of people; and not with those not there, because she doesn't know any of them, ot people like them.
I can relate to some of what you are describing. Though fortunately I have not had to work in a corporate setting for many years, I can look back and see cases where co-workers have developed negative impressions of me that I was not aware of meriting.
Might it be an Aspie (autistic spectrum) thing? Not instinctively knowing the emotional signals and getting frozen out socially, and when it is drawn to your attention, having to fake it in an awkward, paint by numbers sort of way?
My therapist has suggested that I'm on the spectrum. I've never doubted it. Technically it's the diagnosis we're working with.
But she recognizes I'm adept enough to not truly be diagnosed as Asperger's. What puts me in the spectrum is my question to her (regularly) "Why if I'm discussing that is fact-based, do I have to care about how they feel? It's a goddamn fact, not a feeling."
So yeah, I'm on the spectrum.
I feel that it's not part of the Aspie spectrum, rather the male spectrum.
My problem with Streep and the rest of the vulture/assassins on the left is truth. The media, the Democrats, the Hollywood moonbats and other useful idiots have intentionally created the lie of Trump's supposed racism, homophobia, misogyny, etc. All Streep did was use these phony constructs plus some exaggeration of her own to repeat lies and accusations. She knows this and hers is an intentional character assassination. I don't think she did it because of moral beliefs or concern for our country I believe she did it exactly to assassinate him.
IMHO Trump is not as stupid and unsuited for this job as many believe him to be. I don't think he is anymore thin skinned than any other Alpha male operating in big business in New York and the rest of the world. I think he plays the game, he intimidates, he charms, he challenges and he wins. I think he is better prepared for leadership and running a big government/corporation than our last four presidents were and I think he may well be smarter than any president in my lifetime and I remember hearing President Truman on the radio when I was a pre-school child. I believe Obama was/is a puppet neither particularly smart nor capable. I think Trump is very under estimated and I think that is intentional on his part. He's been playing this game a long time in a tough business and winning.
One thing I totally agree with Trump about is the role that the MSM has played these last 50 years or so to cover for the Democrats and lie about the Republicans. What I would like is for the press to do their job and report honestly but I think those days are gone forever if they ever really existed.
I believe that our current fiscal/economic situation is bleak and I don't think Trump will be able to save us from a economic depression. I honestly believe that the Democrats, both politicians and useful idiots like Streep, will work long and hard to make sure Trump fails and thus America fails. This is what the left does, create a crisis and exploit it. This is their plan and the life, wealth and well being of 330 million Americans don't mean a thing to them if they can create a situation where they have all the power. That is how bad the anti-Trump assassins will become. I fully expect Senators McCain and Graham to help in this in anyway they can.
IMHO as well concerning Trump. Very well stated.
I am more optimistic about the U.S.'s current fiscal/economic situation though.
Bulldog: I enjoyed reading your post on Meryl Streep. It was a unique point of view.
My view was that Streep was just rude. If another celebrity used their life time achievement speech to make a derogatory comment about Obama, the audience response would be they were just rude. There will be many opportunities in next year or so to state that if the "moccasin" was on the other foot, the hypocrisy and double standard would be self-evident.
My question is why waste the time and energy on someone like Meryl Streep who so obviously shows no empathy towards those of middle class Americans who have put up with Obama these past eight years. Based upon her speech, she has never given any thought as to why 62 million Americans voted for Trump and her gal lost.
With Hollywood it is all about them. I can be empathetic, but then I try to discern between who really deserves the effort of my emotional giving. She and her ilk are not worthy. I say pass.
That's the thing that's trying my patience with old friends and family members who are melting down. They really did not care one whit when Pres. Obama's administration took away my health insurance. I'm finding it hard now to empathize with their terrified fantasies about the awful things Trump is going to do to them. All I can think is, sometimes elections don't go our way, grow up and shut up for a change. But I try not to be that blunt about it, and I've been spending considerable effort avoiding spitefulness, despite the considerable temptations of schadenfreude. I suppose my mouth says "There, there," but my eyes say, "Suck it up, buttercup."
For me, the worst part of Streep's speech was her use of the word "permission" as a verb. There's an already accepted word for this available -- "to permit."
I put the verbing of nouns into the same category as vocal fry: An affectation of a not-terribly-bright person trying to sound smart.
"verbing" of nouns... I can't decide if you are wicked funny or just trying to sound smart :)
Is empathy that is highly selective, or maudlin, real or an affectation? How did empathy become so political?
Why is it so hard to have empathy for the Middle, the folks who aspire to mastery, competence, conscientiousness, self sufficiency, civic mindedness, ................?
The politicization of empathy (both in the workplace and the political realm) is my biggest burden.
I can't abide by having to "feel" other people's problems and being concerned with them to the degree I'm expected to. Got an issue? Deal with it. Need my help? Ask for it. If I can help, I will. But don't expect me to spend time telling you what you want to hear in a manner you hope to hear it.
"Streep then positioned herself (or the acting community), reporters, and foreigners as 'outsiders' - really, as outcasts." The politically correct see themselves as victims of oppression, they are being persecuted. People that believe this are usually called paranoid.
Empathy is important, but it cannot be used to disallow all disagreement with someone else's opinions. That's um, crazy and ridiculous.
A person's opinions exist independently of who they are as a person. The fact that those opinions are "theirs" is true enough, but they can also change their opinions over time (let's hope so!) so while today you might disagree with their opinion on Trump or whatever, someday their opinion might change and at that time you might agree with them. So ... agreeing and disagreeing is not done with the emotional center of a person, via empathy, it is done with the opinions they express, their rational side.
I'm with you Bulldog - people who so strongly tie their entire identity to their opinions and insist that any disagreement with any of their opinions is automatically an affront to them *personally*, well, sorry, that's 7th grade. I moved on from 7th grade.
I'm told (and this is just me repeating what my therapist and HR have told me) that it's not so much that identity is wrapped up in this use of empathy, but that people actually 'feel' a certain way about their opinions. So engaging empathy helps you communicate with them better. The concept being there are no inherent truths in the world (a belief I wholeheartedly disagree with), so you have to 'give' a little on yours to be happier with others.
But what I've learned is that when people feel I'm not being empathetic, it's because I'm not agreeing with them.
I don't tie my feelings to my opinions. Tell me you disagree, fine. I'll tell you why I disagree with you. We're all good, we don't have to agree.
But when you start trying to make me agree (through force of law, or use of empathy as a moral platform), you're really just pissing me off.
A friend of mine recently said "when we talked, I only agreed with you because you made me feel insignificant." I replied "you made yourself feel insignificant. I never said you were, and I never made you do anything. If you felt that way, it was your choice to feel that way."
That's cold and heartless, I know. I'm a terrible person for pointing out facts. Maybe I could have said what I said a bit more nicely. Or maybe they could have held their ground a little better. My guess is their position was tenuous to begin with, and they were overwhelmed. That happens if you're not prepared.
I'm with you on all of that. It is certainly true that engaging with people on an emotional level helps us communicate better - that makes perfect sense and fits in well with all the new things I've learned from Scott Adams these past 18 months.
However, like you say, that can't turn into "agree with me or I'll pout and blame it on you later". That's passive-aggressive thinking and we have too many of those kind of people these days.
What would help us all a LOT is for people to quit taking offense all the damn time, and so easily - perpetual outrage is no way to live! Boring, too.
No one can walk in anyone else's shoes. Empathy and tolerance have killed more folks than guns. A bad person is a bad person whether she is an actress or serving in the local fast foods. Meryl is bad person doing what bad people do. It makes her worse than Donald Trump or easily as bad. No, I do not know anything about Meryl or Donald. I don't do movies(safe spaces) by choice except on the internet. I haven't owned television in years. I choose never to look up anything about actors and actresses because they generally are not very nice and it makes them harder to watch. I haven't cared much about them as individuals ever excepting Paul Newman, James Woods, Tom Select and a few others of the conservative bent. Even then it wasn't pleasant for me because of numerous divorces in their past. I like your article as I have so many before though I rarely take time to comment. One has to jump through too many hoops.
I don't lack empathy, I just don't give a crap about 99.99% of the people on this planet, what they think, or how they feel. I'm sure they FEEL the same about me.