No More Empty Fortune Cookies!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Empathy, a shot in the ass for Apathy

ap·a·thynoun, plural -thies.
1. absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.
2. lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting.
3. Also, ap·a·thei·a, ap·a·thi·a
—Synonyms 1. coolness. 2. See
—Antonyms 1. ardor, fervor.

em·pa·thy - noun,1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. 2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.

I've found myself discussing these words a lot lately. A LOT. Both come up frequently when discussing such topics as politics, religion, civil rights, you name it. Apathy runs rampant today, like the bubonic plague, spreading its slow death insidiously. Dare I say, it's reached epidemic levels in our country. I call it death by apathy with empathy deprivation.

Empathy, I believe, is the much needed antidote for this outbreak.

The apathy plague starts covertly; seemingly, innocuous. The apathetic teenager: content to play video games and vege out on the sofa all day. Tell them there's a real war, with people dying every day, and that they may have to go fight it in a couple of years, and they'll shrug their shoulders and say, " Waddaya want me to do about it?".

The lack of response from the MIT authorities over the hate-spewing email sent to the GLBT support group, threatening physical violence.

The people who don't vote, for whatever reason.

The Catholic Church Scandal and subsequent cover-up attempts of child molesters - and lack of public outrage.

How will children learn to stand up for what's right if there's no one teaching them how to take a stand?

I believe that empathy is the best combatant for apathy. We usually have no problem sharing others joy with them. Why then, when someone is in pain, do we turn away; say it's not our business? Why not stand up for them in their hour of need? Why not stand up for ourselves?
A lack of empathy. Some don't even understand what it is. They confuse it with sympathy. When I worked for the phone company, they would listen in on our phone calls, to make sure we were providing quality customer service. I remember one particularly confrontational supervisor saying to me,
" Where's you empathy statement in that call?" I said to her, " I told him, if that happened to me, and now I needed a new phone without insurance, I'd be really mad too" and she rudely rolled her eyes at me and said,
" No! Do you EVEN KNOW what empathy IS? You should have said, I'm sorry you are so frustrated."
Well now, that's a sympathy statement, isn't it? Not exactly empathy.
It took all that I had in me to express to her, in a professional manner, that maybe she misunderstood the definition of empathy, or maybe she meant that she was looking for a sympathy statement in that phone call, but the two are not interchangeable. I called upon my empathetic nature, and placed myself in her shoes and decided that she must be frustrated with her station in life, what, with the crappy job and all. She, out of professional obligation or just curiosity, looked up the definition of empathy. I saw that she was not unteachable and she learned a new vocabulary term, my call was scored a higher score, and her and I built a bridge that day. The power of empathy.
Empathy is empowering. That's why Fortune 500 companies spend uber bucks on teaching sales and customer service teams how to utilize it. It generates healthier relationships for those involved and it is a cornerstone in the foundation of effective communication. Empathetic listening fosters an environment in which mutual understanding and trust are heightened. It enables you, the listener, to receive and interpret the speaker's message with better accuracy. Then provide an appropriate response, critical to the success of a negotiation or mediation, which is in itself an integral part of the process of communication.
Effective communication is pivotal in problem resolution. Being able to effectively resolve your problems is a key factor in living a fulfilling, happy, and successful life.

Want to effectively resolve the state's problems? How about the country's? Try a bit of empathy, empathetic listening, watch the changes take shape before your very own eyes. It's real, measurable results, guaranteed.
Through empathy, we can stop this carcinogenic apathy from killing us. Through empathy, we can learn to better understand, appreciate, accept, and get along with our neighbors.
Through empathy, we may just change the world.

5 cookies cracked:

Karen said...

I have plenty of empathy for people - both those I know and those I do not. However, that leap from having empathy and actually feeling the need to do something about it is where I fall short.

I think it is a combination of a lot of factors which puts me in my spot - laziness, knowing that often change is virtually impossible, ego, etc. But I know it is not that I don't care. I do care. I do feel others pain, but I guess I don't feel that it is my job to get out there and "make a difference".

Great post, by the way. (I probably should have started with that).

Fortune Cookies said...

Karen, actually,I'd say, by definition of your chosen profession, that you take that stand and go to action more so than a large percentage of the population. Not everyone gets to uphold the laws of this country in their everyday life. Cut your self a bit of slack.
Oh,and thank you! :)

Real Live Lesbian said...

Brilliant post! I completely agree and am also sometimes guilty as charged. Working on that.

Anonymous said...

You say it good! Loved the post on empathy. I think that is why people like you so much!

Fortune Cookies said...

real live- why, thanks so much! we all can be guilty of not being as empathatic as we could be. how's the saying go? if you spot it, you got it. :)

anonymous - thanks, but, are you saying it's because I say things well, or because I'm empathetic? either way, I'm pretty sure there'll be a line of folks to disagree with you on it ;)