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The Case Against Empathy

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The Case Against Empathy

Postby jundo on Sat Feb 25, 2017 2:56 pm

DearZFIers,

It is good to be back. Pardon me if I do recall where things should be posted. I hope this is right. :)

A fascinating short interview with a Yale psychology professor who, based on compelling evidence, argues that feelings of "empathy" actually can be detrimental to doing good and making helpful decisions. He points, for example, at medical doctors who may find that overly sharing the pain of their patients can cause them to both lose objectivity in treatment and to burn out very quickly.

http://www.ttbook.org/book/case-against-empathy

In the middle of the interview, he notes traditional Buddhist doctrines and studies on meditators that seem to point away from encouraging "empathy" (an inner sharing of the feeling of the person who is suffering) in favor of "compassion" (a willingness to help those in need, but with a heart that is rather more aloof and filled with equanimity).

From another interview:

Summing up, compassionate helping is good for you and for others. But empathetic distress is destructive of the individual in the long run.

It might also be of little help to other people because experiencing others’ pain is exhausting and leads to burnout. This issue is explored in the Buddhist literature on morality. Consider the life of a bodhisattva, an enlightened person who vows not to pass into Nirvana, choosing instead to stay in the normal cycle of life and death to help the masses. How is a bodhisattva to live? In Consequences of Compassion (2009) Charles Goodman notes the distinction in Buddhists texts between “sentimental compassion,” which corresponds to empathy, and “great compassion,” which involves love for others without empathetic attachment or distress. Sentimental compassion is to be avoided, as it “exhausts the bodhisattva.” Goodman defends great compassion, which is more distanced and reserved and can be sustained indefinitely.

This distinction has some support in the collaborative work of Tania Singer, a psychologist and neuroscientist, and Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk, meditation expert, and former scientist. In a series of studies using fMRI brain scanning, Ricard was asked to engage in various types of compassion meditation directed toward people who are suffering. To the surprise of the investigators, these meditative states did not activate parts of the brain that are normally activated by non-meditators when they think about others’ pain. Ricard described his meditative experience as “a warm positive state associated with a strong prosocial motivation.”

He was then asked to put himself in an empathetic state and was scanned while doing so. Now the appropriate circuits associated with empathetic distress were activated. “The empathic sharing,” Ricard said, “very quickly became intolerable to me and I felt emotionally exhausted, very similar to being burned out.”

One sees a similar contrast in ongoing experiments led by Singer and her colleagues in which people are either given empathy training, which focuses on the capacity to experience the suffering of others, or compassion training, in which subjects are trained to respond to suffering with feelings of warmth and care. According to Singer’s results, among test subjects who underwent empathy training, “negative affect was increased in response to both people in distress and even to people in everyday life situations. . . . these findings underline the belief that engaging in empathic resonance is a highly aversive experience and, as such, can be a risk factor for burnout.” Compassion training—which doesn’t involve empathetic arousal to the perceived distress of others—was more effective, leading to both increased positive emotions and increased altruism.
http://bostonreview.net/forum/paul-bloom-against-empathy


Please note that he is NOT advocating that people should be uncaring and unhelpful to others, but rather is only questioning the most effective emotions allowing one to do so.

I think there is something to this assertion. What do you think (especially those of you who are professional or active caretakers for people in need)?

Gassho, Jundo

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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby organizational on Sat Feb 25, 2017 4:15 pm

Welcome jundo
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby flutemaker on Sat Feb 25, 2017 5:56 pm

:train: :wb:

You are very welcome back to the forum.

I am familiar with the "sharing" thanks to my life experiences. I am not happy when it arises uncontrolled.

FYI I posted here a good while back under the nick el_gatito.
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby Avisitor on Sun Feb 26, 2017 12:32 am

jundo wrote:Please note that he is NOT advocating that people should be uncaring and unhelpful to others, but rather is only questioning the most effective emotions allowing one to do so.

I think there is something to this assertion. What do you think (especially those of you who are professional or active caretakers for people in need)?

Gassho, Jundo

SatToday

I don't know how one would section off emotions like that?
Where does empathy end and compassion begin?
Cause if one is totally without empathy then how does compassion work?
And this thought that empathy taken to the extreme is unhealthy ... think it applies to more than just empathy?

Also, if we are using emotions to allow us to be more effective in the things we do ...
Then how is this different than common people who allow their emotions to rule their lives (filled with desires, anger, hatred, greed)??
Aren't we taught as kids to handle our emotions so that our minds control our actions rather than the emotions??

When one sits, should one use one's emotions to allow one to be more effective doing Zazen??

I am guessing that it is rather more dependent upon the immediate situation
rather than the emotions we use that determine which is appropriate to have??

Sorry, just rambling
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby jundo on Sun Feb 26, 2017 1:47 am

I wonder if there is something here. The historical Buddha worked all his life to help sentient beings, yet the old Suttas depict him as rather aloof and above the fray, in this world yet not of it, prescribing the medicine for Dukkha to help our suffering yet cool and collected, never (were there rare exceptions?) depicted as brought to tears or swept with overwhelming emotion in hearing the sad story of the individual. For example, his wise and piercing advice in the famous old Buddhist story of Kisa Ghotami and the mustard seed ...

When her son died just a few years into his life, Kisa Gotami went mad with grief. A wise person saw her condition and told her to find the Buddha, who had the medicine she needed. Kisa Gotami went to the Buddha, and asked him to give her the medicine that would restore her dead child to life. The Buddha told her to go out and find a mustard seed from a house where nobody had died. Kisa Gotami was heartened, and began her search, going door to door. Everyone was willing to give her a mustard seed, but every household she encountered had seen at least one death. She understood why the Buddha had sent her on this quest. She returned to the Buddha, who confirmed what she had realized: "There is no house where death does not come."


Likewise for most Bodhisattva and Ancestor tales. Kannon is all hearing of the cries of beings, and all hands offering to help, but with a subtle smile or visage of equanimity.

Image

In practical terms, the doctor or other care giver should stay calm, observant, objective, with a heart and mind which understand and comprehend the suffering of the patient but which do not get pulled in. It is just as the rescuer of the drowning man who must keep control and not herself panic, yet must not simply stand by and ignore the outreached hand. The helper cares and offer aid, but sees through the chaos in real concern.

I feel that this is right. The result is not callous neglect, uncaring inaction, but cool and practical understanding and help. Kannon does not drown in the storming seas of suffering in the world, but rises above it all.

Image

Gassho, Jundo

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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby organizational on Sun Feb 26, 2017 4:17 pm

God say 'BE' and thus it becomes
Bakara:117
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby jundo on Sun Feb 26, 2017 4:25 pm

organizational wrote:Bakara


Bakara is a village in Syria that is suffering greatly in war. Is that what you mean?

My heart can break for the people there, and yet one stands in the peace and equanimity of wisdom beyond all war and fear.

There is no war to broker and all is timeless peace, yet one can work to negotiate a peace and help the refugees.

I think it is like this: All is a dream, there is no suffering, there is no death. The heart is calm.

Nonetheless, there are children in need, thousands are dying, let us offer a hand. In this way, the Bodhisattva does not drown and wallow in the mud of the world's pain, yet offers a caring hand.

Gassho, Jundo
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby organizational on Sun Feb 26, 2017 4:38 pm

I don't want peace even for my people.
There after the Syrian people.

./\.
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby organizational on Sun Feb 26, 2017 5:08 pm

For to clarify
I'm a Buddhist
and they are Muslims

I've suffered many in vains

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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby partofit22 on Sun Feb 26, 2017 9:56 pm

Sometimes it's the individual being cared for, instead of the caretaker, with the outstretched hand that finds comfort in the variety of all those sharing the household and care-taking (including animals) while dying and then slip away quietly during the night- Someone like this has already come to grips with and then let go of their empathy- Had they never experienced it I doubt they would recognize the impact that emotions have- So if everything is interconnected then empathy isn't separate -- it plays a role in letting go- As that gentle man was being taken away by the coroner the family dog howled a howl that no words can describe- Once the man's body was gone, the dog curled up and cried-



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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby Gregory Wonderwheel on Mon Feb 27, 2017 3:54 am

jundo wrote:A fascinating short interview with a Yale psychology professor who, based on compelling evidence, argues that feelings of "empathy" actually can be detrimental to doing good and making helpful decisions. He points, for example, at medical doctors who may find that overly sharing the pain of their patients can cause them to both lose objectivity in treatment and to burn out very quickly.
[...]



Zen teacher Zoketsu Norman Fischer has been talking about this issue too.
Of course the terminology confuses people and we have to sort out what we mean by sympathy, empathy, compassion, caring, kindness, love, protecting, cherishing, etc. on the spectrum.
For me the core issue is about identity and the self-other phenomenon. I take it that empathy is being used in the sense of "losing oneself in the other" as distinguished from the compassion of seeing both self and other as suffering yet empty simultaneously.

I know that many people are "wowed" by all the physical monitoring technology, but I think it is distracting and gets in the way of realizing what is going on. But for some it is a skillful expedient of upaya, so that is good.

_/|\_
Gregory
Why you do not understand is because the three carts were provisional for former times, and because the One Vehicle is true for the present time. ~ Zen Master 6th Ancestor Huineng
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby jundo on Mon Feb 27, 2017 1:34 pm

Below is a lovely article by a Buddhist Teacher who advocates that we throw ourselves more intimately into others' suffering and do not run from their pain. I print some passages below.

Perhaps the road we are coming to here is that the Middle Way is called for?

I believe that, whatever terminology we use, what we are speaking of is a deep empathy for others, yet with balance and equanimity, able to see through suffering to something beyond suffering but not ignoring the fact of suffering. We offer a hand wisely, but offer a hand.

Again and again we are asked to learn one of life’s clearest lessons: that to run from suffering—to harden our hearts, to turn away from pain—is to deny life and to live in fear. So, as difficult as it is to open our hearts toward suffering, doing so is the most direct path to transformation and liberation.

...

Facing the sorrow we meet in this life, we have a choice: Our hearts can close, our minds recoil, our bodies contract, and we can experience the heart that lives in a state of painful refusal. We can also dive deeply within ourselves to nurture the courage, balance, patience, and wisdom that enable us to care.

If we do so, we will find that compassion is not a state. It is a way of engaging with the fragile and unpredictable world. Its domain is not only the world of those you love and care for, but equally the world of those who threaten us, disturb us, and cause us harm. It is the world of the countless beings we never meet who are facing an unendurable life. The ultimate journey of a human being is to discover how much our hearts can encompass. Our capacity to cause suffering as well as to heal suffering live side by side within us. If we choose to develop the capacity to heal, which is the challenge of every human life, we will find our hearts can encompass a great deal, and we can learn to heal—rather than increase—the schisms that divide us from one another.

...

To cultivate the willingness to listen deeply to sorrow wherever we meet it is to take the first step on the journey of compassion. Our capacity to listen follows on the heels of this willingness. We may make heroic efforts in our lives to shield ourselves from the anguish that can surround us and live within us, but in truth a life of avoidance and defense is one of anxiety and painful separation.

True compassion is not forged at a distance from pain but in its fires. We do not always have a solution for suffering. We cannot always fix pain. However, we can find the commitment to stay connected and to listen deeply. Compassion does not always demand heroic acts or great words. In the times of darkest distress, what is most deeply needed is the fearless presence of a person who can be wholeheartedly receptive.

...

Awareness is born of intimacy. We can only fear and hate what we do not understand and what we perceive from a distance. We can only find compassion and freedom in intimacy. We can be afraid of intimacy with pain because we are afraid of helplessness; we fear that we don’t have the inner balance to embrace suffering without being overwhelmed. Yet each time we find the willingness to meet affliction, we discover we are not powerless. Awareness rescues us from helplessness, teaching us to be helpful through our kindness, patience, resilience, and courage.

https://www.lionsroar.com/she-who-hears-the-cries-of-the-world/


Gassho, J

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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby Anders on Tue Feb 28, 2017 5:44 pm

I don't think of bodhisattva compassion as aloof or distinct from empathy. The classic simile of the compassion of the bodhisattva is like that of a mother's love for a child.

Even-tempered, sure. But aloof? That to me sounds more convenient than true.
"Even if my body should be burnt to death in the fires of hell
I would endure it for myriad lifetimes
As your companion in practice"
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby jundo on Tue Feb 28, 2017 6:20 pm

Anders wrote:I don't think of bodhisattva compassion as aloof or distinct from empathy. The classic simile of the compassion of the bodhisattva is like that of a mother's love for a child.

Even-tempered, sure. But aloof? That to me sounds more convenient than true.


Yes, surely I could have reached for a better word than "aloof."

But perhaps too, a loving and caring mother need not (and should not) be an emotional wreck herself, drowning in her worry and disappointment, in helping children through their sufferings. A parent can be collected and wise even as one offers love and a helping hand. (Something to keep in mind with teenagers! :) )

Gassho, J

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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby desert_woodworker on Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:15 am

Icch.

"Empathy" may just be a feeling, and hopelessly theoretical, kindly only to "oneself". A dead-end.

And usually "too-late" in resolving -- if ever -- to action (if not ultimately a dead-end, ...and to remain a dead-end).

True Compassion is always action, right on-time. Or non-action, right on-time. Informed by true Wisdom (prajna).

We don't have to be "against" empathy, as there's nothing substantial at all to be against (there). It's vacuous (a word).

What's to "be" is to "be for" true Compassion (karuna), by being "for" true practice, and actual awakening, which finally makes available (to arise... ) the inseparable response(s) of true Wisdom, and true Compassion, ...in seamless response to circumstances just (!) as circumstances and happenings arise and present themselves. Wonderful! Miraculous... . Hail!

:Namaste:,

yours,

--Joe
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby Avisitor on Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:41 am

Maybe empathy is just action or inaction with self and others?
And true compassion happens without regard to self and others?

A man jumps into the water to save a drowning person ...
is it empathy or compassion that drives the impulse to save another??
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby desert_woodworker on Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:49 am

Av,

Avisitor wrote:is it empathy or compassion that drives the impulse to save another??

Ask Joe Campbell (oops, deceased).

When he filmed with Bill Moyers in the famous "The Power of Myth" TV series in USA on PBS, he addressed the fact of altruism. Apparently, "it's" in all people, at extreme moments, as ...an instinctual and irrepressible response, like it or not.

So, no, it is not particularly due to prajna nor karuna. Or maybe it is. But it has nothing to do with the fiction of "empathy". In those extreme moments, there just ain't no time to "empathize". Can you dig? You gotta act. Or not.

Happy Fat Tuesday,

--Joe
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby Avisitor on Wed Mar 01, 2017 12:56 am

It is difficult now a days for me to concentrate.
The aging body and weakening mind keeps me from spending too much time watching such heady stuff. "The Power Of Myth".
And my genetic tendency towards Alzheimer (My mother has it and my grand mother had it) keeps me from remembering any of what I have heard.

Wait, what did you say again??
I think I better get a note book and write this stuff down ....
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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby desert_woodworker on Wed Mar 01, 2017 1:02 am

Av,

Avisitor wrote:I think I better get a note book and write this stuff down ....

Take some sublingual Vitamin B-12.

If nothing else, it's a good general panacea, and a great placebo.

Save your money and try this cheap therapy. Go for the 5000 microgram hits. I like strawberry flavor... .

Don't chew them. Let 'em dissolve at slowest 'neath yer tongue.

No way are you headed the Altzheimer's way. Not that I know for sure. It's just that there's a lot to do before we default to hypothetically (or otherwise) acknowledging some unlikely "disease" state. Baloney... .

And don't neglect physical practice, :heya:

--Joe

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Re: The Case Against Empathy

Postby jundo on Wed Mar 01, 2017 4:49 pm

desert_woodworker wrote:
True Compassion is always action, right on-time. Or non-action, right on-time. Informed by true Wisdom (prajna).

We don't have to be "against" empathy, as there's nothing substantial at all to be against (there). It's vacuous (a word).

What's to "be" is to "be for" true Compassion (karuna), by being "for" true practice, and actual awakening, which finally makes available (to arise... ) the inseparable response(s) of true Wisdom, and true Compassion, ...in seamless response to circumstances just (!) as circumstances and happenings arise and present themselves. Wonderful! Miraculous... . Hail!



Hi Joe,

I wonder if I am reading you to say that Zen Practice always lets us do the right thing in situations, and allows us always the right solutions to problems, right on time. Maybe you don't mean to go that far, and I am imposing on you something you do not mean?

I never believe so myself, although I do believe that this Practice allows our heart and eyes to be very much more sensitive to situations and perhaps to read people and circumstances a bit more clearly. We also learn to act more gently, free of anger and other negatives.

As well, there is the realization that fundamentally no mistake is possible in suchness, and there is something about this world that is beyond right and wrong, win and lose, transcendent of two people to tread on each others toes. No mistake is possible. Nonetheless, in daily life there simultaneously occur mistakes and losses and toes to be tread. Nothing about Zen Practice assures one of doing the right thing at the right time. Dogen famously said, “There is the principle of the Way that we must make one mistake after another” (Dogen’s Extensive Record, p. 132). One might say "mistake-no-mistakes."

Part of the problem may be the hagiographic stories of Buddhist Ancestors that are typically written in an idealistic way whereby the Buddha and others always (with some rare exceptions) seemed to do the right thing in the story. WHen people make a legend about a historical hero, they tend to imply that the person had some special knack to always do right, say the right thing, have the right response. I just don't think that is realistic for most people in the world. Thus, this Practice helps to create some very good and caring human beings, but not perfect human beings.

Excuse me if I am making the mistake here of reading too much into what you said. :Namaste:

Gassho, Jundo

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