Being empathetic

Hello world!

I’m still planning to write/post a Molly & Musicals post this week, but today, I wanted to write my  response to the current political/social climate…in the form of a lesson on empathy. Luckily, it’s my blog..so, I make the rules! Yay!

Quick life update: I’m defending my thesis next week so hopefully…very soon, I’ll be Dr. Molly, ftw!

Alrighty, Being Empathetic

I’ve been fortunate enough to be paid to study psychology at the doctoral level for the last 3.5 years. One of my favorite topics to read about and conduct research on is empathy.

Empathy is an interesting term, because, at least in my opinion, it’s super easy to misunderstand (I know I still get confused!). Also, like many psychological concepts, its definition is highly debatable…so, basically, academia can be a pain in the ass (no offense, Mr. Academia!).

OK, so…what is empathy? First, I’d like to start with what empathy is not:

  1. Empathy is not (necessarily) having an emotional reaction to someone’s plight in life, e.g., feeling sad when you see a rough sleeper on the street.
  2. Empathy is not imagining what YOU would do in someone else’s shoes, e.g., “If I were in your situation, I would NOT have done THAT.”
  3. Empathy is not thinking you know what’s best for another group of people because of your own life experience/identity, e.g., because I’m in a position of power, it’s my right to decide women don’t deserve free contraception (PS Fuck you, Trump).

Alright, Molly…then what’s empathy?

Well, the exact definition is still debated among researchers. Specifically, the difference between sympathy and empathy, but here is my understanding of what empathy is:

Empathy is the ability to understand the perspective of another person and includes at least two components: cognitive and emotional empathy.

Being cognitively empathetic is the ability to understand the thought processes of another person, their emotional state and possibly (this might be incorrect), how they came to have that thought process (based on their life experience/what’s going on in their life at the moment/profession/personal trauma/temperament).

Being emotionally empathetic is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. This is different than sympathy, the ability to feel compassion towards another person’s plight in life.

Basically, in my opinion (and also in the opinion of the amazing Empathy Lab), developing, most importantly, cognitive empathy (emotional empathy is still beneficial and will help you to better understand another person’s plight through embodiment, BUT cognitive empathy can be taught and allows you to better intellectually understand another person or people’s existence) at an early early age or at least eventually has the potential to significantly affect contemporary culture.

For example, if the majority of politicians  genuinely cognitively empathized with disenfranchised members of society, I’d predict they’d be more likely to propose policies that have the potential to actually benefit those groups rather than…themselves or…lobbyists and donors etc.

That’s all for now :0)