The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines a person who lacks empathy as having an Antisocial Personality Disorder. Both sociopaths and psychopaths lack empathy but the sociopath apparently understands when they are doing something “wrong”. They simply don’t care enough to do right. Empathy is the ability to feel or imagine you do, what another is feeling. You can put yourself in someone else’s place and may refrain from being hurtful simply because you understand what that hurt feels like.
I imagine there are few, if any real living humans who are the type of true empath featured in the original Star Trek episode. She could not only feel another’s pain, but by taking it on heal that person. Understanding how someone else hurts won’t stop the pain or undo the hurt, but it can help us amend our own behavior. It can also help us understand why another acts the way they do.
I find it ironic that Facebook, Twitter and other online vehicles are labeled “social media” when much of the behaviors exhibited there are anti-social to the point of seeming sociopathic. Facebook and Twitter and the comments sections of news feeds, in their relative anonymity, have spawned and/or magnified the polarization of American discourse. We always had points of disagreement. Our very formation as a Constitutional republic was based on discourse and the right to disagree with each other and with the government. With “social media” some participants seem to feel excused from exhibiting any empathy for someone who doesn’t share their views. Lacking that social responsibility certain people jump straight to anger, hate and hurtfulness.
Another irony often remarked upon is the hate-spewing and loss of empathy among self-proclaimed Christians (read “religious RIGHT”). That double meaning is not accidental I’m sure. A person who uses that label for themselves is convinced they are not only to the “right” of our two-party system (remember that “left” was labeled sinister before that term was taken to mean “evil”. The word “sinister” literally meant “to the left”.) So anyone who is liberal is a leftist (which used to mean “communist” or “socialist”. Another irony. If you are not a socialist are you therefore anti-social? But the religious right also believes themselves to be “in the right.” No other opinions or positions matter because if it is not theirs it is WRONG. Left.
These are the things I ponder.