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Empathy: Emotion and People

By PaperNerd Contributor Nov 12, 2001 1324 Words
All of us have had compaction for one thing or another in our lives. Our sympathetic feelings toward something is empathy. It is a basic requirement for all human beings. It is natural for us to have an empathetic response towards things. Empathy is a very powerful tool towards our emotional distress. It is hard for us to resist the power of empathetic feelings. When we feel empathy we feel other peoples emotional distresses. We try to feel sympathetic towards the situation or the person. When empathy comes into play we try to solve the problem and take the other persons perspective on the problem. An empathetic person feels what the other person is feeling and why. One can be empathetic towards fictional situations and characters. Empathy is an emotion that we strive to satisfy even if it means risking our lives or being very uncomforadable.

Empathy is an emotion shown in people as young as twelve months. Our empathy builds as we grow older. An important aspect of empathy is to be able to consider the viewpoint of another person. This is also known as perspective taking. This is why people risk their lives to save someones life or just save someone from harm. Usually people who risk their lives to save people are very empathetic of people. People who posses a low level of empathy towards people tend to not take as much risks for the sake of solving a problem. But some people find it quite necessary to satisfy their empathetic emotions. This breed of people obviously take more risks . When you imagine how another person perceives an event and how he or she feels as a result, this is called taking an "imagine other"� perspective. When we see on the news that an innocent bystander was harmed, we take an "imagine other"� perspective. This makes us feel empathy for the person, even though we may have never heard or seen of the person before until the news reported it. "Imagine self"� is when one imagines themselves personally being in the situation. Both "imagine other"� and "imagine self"� perspectives go hand in hand. When one feels for a persons problems and tries to imagine how he or she feels, one tends to also imagine themselves in the same situation. These perspectives bring out the empathy that we possess. Those who take the "imagine other"� perspective experience relatively pure empathy that motivates altruistic behavior. The "imagine self"� perspective also produces empathy but it is accompanied by feelings of distress that arouse egoistic motives that can actually interfere with people being unselfish about their thoughts.

Another perspective of empathy is fantasy. This is when our empathy is for something that is not real. This is a very occurring situation to most people. People act emotionally to the joys and sorrows of an imaginary person or thing. When people watch a sad movie, people sometimes cry and feel for the person, even though the situation is not real. When we read a sad or depressing book or hear about a sad fair tale, we take the imagine other and imagine self perspectives to a fantasy situation just as we would a real life situation. The only difference being is you can't physically put yourself into position to help the fantasy situation, as with the real life situations, one can physically help the situation. We might think that children have the tendency to have empathetic thoughts about fantasy situations more than adults. This is not true. Adults experience the same kind of empathetic feelings towards fantasy situations. When I went to see the movie TITANIC two summers ago, I observed that the whole audience was crying. Women, children and even men were crying. Even though the movie was a fantasy people still felt for the characters.

Humans differ greatly in their ability to experience empathy. Some people are highly empathetic and feel distress whenever they encounter someone else is distressed. It doesn't matter whether it's real or fictional. People who are highly empathetic more motivated to avoid social disapproval or feelings of guilt. Some people are not very empathetic at all. These people are unaffected by anyone's emotional state but their own.. People with low levels of empathy will avoid helping people because the costs are high and they can escape responsibilities easily. Genes account for about a third of the differences in people in affective empathy. Presumably, learning counts for the remaining differences in empathy. Our experiences in our life help us learn either affective empathy or non-affective empathy. The kind of experiences that are involved in our ability to have affective empathy is by a mother's warmth and by clear and forceful messages from parents telling how others are affected by hurtful behavior. When parents discuss emotions with their children, the better their ability to empathize becomes. When parentsw are abusive or use anger to control their kids, their ability to empathize with the world drops tremendously. Women tend to empathize with the world more than men. This could either be because of genetics or because women have different socialization experiences than men. We tend to be more empathetic to people who are most like ourselves. This happens because we can relate to people who are much like ourselves. When disasters occur similarity to self comes into play. If one has been involved in a similar disaster, one is more likely to be empathetic towards the situation..

Need for approval is an important aspect of helping behavior. People who want to be praised for their good deeds generally empathize with the world quite well. Empathy is higher in people who help with emergency situations. People who are very altruistic descibe themselves as being very responsible, socialized, conforming tolerant , self controlled, and wanting to make a good impression. Obviously people who help others in emergency situations are believe that it is just the right thing to do. People that have empathy for others see themselves as socially responsible for people in emergencies. To look the other way is not being responsible. One can't say that someone with low levels of empathy would not help somebody in a particular emergency situation. It is just more likely people that have little empathy will look for someone else to help before they do. It also depends on the severity of the situation at hand. It is easy to see how the media reacts to how people react during emergency situations in today's society. When bystanders fail to act, the media focuses on the lack of concern among uncaring people. When a bystander does to the emergency the media emphasises on how an ordinar person can suddenly become a hero to the public. This gives people with empathy all the more reason to act and give people with little empathy a good reason to at least try and do something for the sake of not being looked down on by the media.

Empathy is a very powerful emotion that many of us possess. It is a very natural emotion that even infants have. Empathy comes in many forms. Taking an "imagine other"� perspective and the "imagine self perspective is something we do everyday in one form or another. Empathy comes in many forms. We empathize for the smallest things. Some of us are not very empathetic at all. This is seen as a bad thing by today's society and media. But people with low empathy doesn't necessarily mean they are cruel people. The capacity for empathy plays a crucial role in differentiating those who behave in prosocial behavior and those who do not. It is safe to say that people who are concerned with their own personal welfare and not others are unempathetic people to our society. We must remember that empathy is present in all of us. It just depends on the person and their life experiences whether they will show empathy for situations.

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