Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A New Epidemic: Empathy Deficit Disorder

Empathy is a humanizing force. It is the ability to get the other person's point of view and see things from his angle without losing your own perspective.

Empathy is what you feel when you can step outside of yourself and enter the internal world of the other person, and experience the other person's emotions, conflicts, or aspirations.

Empathy is the basic ingredient of any good conversation. It's our chief way of learning. We perform at our best through the involvement of others.

However, empathy is not easy because, as obvious as this is going to sound, we are all individuals who have never been anybody but ourselves. Therefore empathy requires us to slow down and take the time to consider what it might be like to walk in another's shoes. Unfortunately, our fast paced society does not encourage the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.

EDD (Empathy Deficit Disorder) as Douglas LaBier, Ph.D. says, "keeps you locked inside a self-centered world, and that breeds emotional isolation, disconnection and polarization."

How Do You Develop EDD?

Most people are socially conditioned into believing that acquiring and achieving things are "normal" - even "healthy" - ways to live. EDD grows when people focus too much on acquiring power, status, and money for themselves. Nearly every day we hear or read about more extreme examples: people who go over the edge in their pursuit of money, power or recognition, and end up resigning their jobs, in rehab or behind bars.

But many of the people I see everyday, whether in psychotherapy or executive consulting, struggle with their own versions of the same thing through too much emphasis on acquiring - both things and people. That's going to promote vanity and self-importance. Then, you become increasingly alienated from your own heart, and equate what you have with who you are.

And that's a killer for empathy, because then you're ripe for the delusion that you're completely independent and self-sufficient. You lose touch with the true reality, that all humans are interconnected and interdependent - all organs of the same body, so to speak. Your sense of being a part of the larger interwoven community - which is absolutely necessary for survival in today's world - fades away. And so does your awareness that we have to sink or swim together, help each other, and sustain the planet we inhabit - or else we're all in deep trouble.

The net result of this social conditioning is the decline of empathy for other human beings who are on the same boat you are. You don't recognize that we're all one, bound together. You only see yourself. And I think that's a bona fide emotional disorder in our times.

Social Melting Pots Foster Technological Innovation

Ubuntu philosophy

Xhosa proverb: "People are people through other people".
"My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up in yours. We belong in a bundle of life. I am a human because I belong. A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good; for he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed, or treated as if they were less than who they are." -- Desmond Tutu explaining Ubuntu in No Future Without Forgiveness

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