Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

When you lose the capacity to empathize with human beings
people become objects to like when they make you happy
or become violent towards when they make you angry.

is the greatest deterrent to violence and even anger, because literally
and figuratively, you can’t walk in someone else’s shoes and step on
their toes at the same time. Glibness aside, the reason for that is
because empathy is a sensory experience where you are feeling what
another person is feeling (what jargon wielding psychoanalysts call
"vicarious introspection") while anger is a motor function where you
feel and get angry at another person as a reaction to a real or
perceived hurt or injury by them.

There are two forces that
decrease or completely sever the capacity for empathy. This includes on
the one hand being so criticized, ignored, betrayed or in other ways
assaulted by the outside world that your ability to keep perspective
and override your animal reflex to get even is lost. On the other hand,
this can occur when your psyche so loses touch with reality (as we are
discovering with the shooters at Virginia Tech and now Northern
Illinois University) that you perceive the world to be against you when
it may not be.

What are the solutions? Research has consistently
shown that one of the greatest correlations to adult mental health,
well being and even success is having family dinners together two to
three times/week. It’s not exactly clear why that is so, but one could
postulate that when such dinners take place where presumably there are
conversations that demonstrate caring and interest more than criticism,
this may have both an assuaging and ameliorating effect on children
being able to get stuff off their chest, talk their concerns out, be
listened to and feel cared about.

When children grow up bathed
in the empathy and caring of a family that loves them, the capacity for
empathy endures through teens and adulthood that enables them to endure
the slings and arrows of everyday life without blowing a fuse and
exploding back at the world in violence.

On a grander scale,
empathy is becoming in shorter supply as we shift away from
relationships which are about relating in order to connect and become
closer to transactionships which are about negotiating in order to win
and get your way.

Read more About Teenage Violence: It’s the Rage.

(c) 2008 Mark Goulston