Is There Less Empathy Now? (see attached article too)

The Boston Globe recently ran a story about research that shows how young people have less empathy now than they did even a generation ago. You can read the whole article on my facebook fanpage.

I for one, do not need studies like this to substantiate this point!

It correlates, and to a large extent, supports, what I wrote about bullying last week. Though this deserves a much longer commentary, let me just offer this: Every time you answer your cell phone (which is on and on you everywhere you go), every timeyou read and reply to a text, every time you go on your computer, check your facebook, watch TV, etc, where is your attention – inside yourself or on others? People spend on average 6 hours a day doing these things – almost half their waking lives.

Just think about what it is like when you are with someone and they answer their phone and make you wait there and listen to their conversation.

You are the same way when you do this.

You are not paying attention to others, but rather making a priority of attending to your own interests.

I first realized this on an airplane years ago when a man on a cell phone call was talking so loud on his phone and had no recognition whatsoever of how disrespectful it was to everyone around him. I asked him to lower his voice and he looked at me as if I was obnoxiously rude for interrupting his call that was interrupting all of us!

It’s only happened 10,000 times since then – particularly with mom’s and Nannies (and Dad’s!) at the playground who are on their phones while their kids are falling off play equipment and hurting themselves. Twice now I’ve been there with my daughter while kids have fallen and actually needed medical care – both times, the parent was absorbed in a cell phone call instead of watching their kids who were doing dangerous things.

Our kids are growing up in a world where this is not only being modeled for them, but that they are being entrained to…

Now try this experiment: watch a tv show on popular tv and notice how many times in the half hour there is sarcasm, negativity, put-downs, etc. Then realize that your kids, if they are watching Disney, Nickelodeon, etc are being exposed to this same onslaught of sarcasm, negativity, put-downs – just watch kid’s TV and you’ll see.

We have become a culture of self-absorption, where sarcasm and cutting criticism have become an enormous force and presence. It is so present as to be ubiquitous. How can we expect our kids to be growing into deeply empathic, “other” oriented people when it is not be modeled for them in most places where they turn, including in many cases, inside their own homes?

I may sound cynical and exaggerated, and perhaps I am a little… but I think you’ll find that with an honest assessment of things, that what I am saying here is far more realistic than not.

What do you think?

One Response to "Is There Less Empathy Now? (see attached article too)"

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I am enjoying your site and thank you for sharing your insights in a free and open format.

    I am processing a lot of this stuff as director of a summer camp in anticipation of staff training for this summer. It would be interesting to know how the U of M measured empathy in their study, but I can attest that it seems to be often lacking in youth and young adults in a startling way to someone who is in their 30’s.

    I agree with your cultural assessment and know that we cannot expect youth to find empathy on their own in the environment of our time. Yet, I retain some optimism in my belief that empathy can be learned and/or found in youth who are given the opportunity to learn or find it. The idea of empathy is something that has been a common theme in my attempts to express a counseling philosophy to young staff members and I am continually searching for effective ways to enhance or instill this attribute in young adults.

    Through the literal nature around us, including the people (face to face) and the nurturing intent of a counselor I have seen many take great strides in their development. At camp, we are fortunate to work in an place where the atmosphere is friendly and kids and staff members are for the most part free of the screens of tv, the internet, and their cell phones. In such simplicity, there is such great power.

    A guy named Richard Alpert said, “One of the most dramatic characteristics of experience is being with another person and suddenly seeing the ways in which they are like you; not different from you. And experiencing the fact that yes indeed we are brothers in the true sense of that which is essence in you and which is essence in me are indeed one.” This seems to be something that is lost or under-appreciated in the society today. It is not nature vs nurture, but both. People are born with the ability to feel empathy, but it needs to be cultivated in order that it develop. Additionally, one must have face to face connection with people without the separation of a electronic device. That is a different kind of connection.

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