The “-pathies”, antipathy, apathy, sympathy, empathy

 

I recently experienced three losses, a friend, an acquaintance, and a much admired celebrity. There was also the rape and murder of a young woman in the news. In the past I have suffered the losses of family, mother, father, a half-sister, a cousin, a nephew. What are those losses on a scale of sorrow? Distant, in time or space. Oh, too bad. Interesting. Really? Oh, no! Close. Closer. Closest. Intimate. But most recently, the fourth, and most devastating of all, was the death of my dear wife, Alice.

The “-pathy” experienced depends on several things. The manner of passing, sudden or expected, prolonged expectation. Accident, sickness, brutality. Unwanted or desired. The “pathies” in expressing sorrow are apathy, sympathy, empathy, antipathy.

In sympathy, sorrow is feigned or genuine, is a social gesture, a feeling for the aggrieved, tinged with a subliminal fear of loss of one’s own life with vivid imaginings, expressed as hate of the unjust or undeserved death.

The nonverbal communication of sympathy and empathy differ. Empathy is basically communicated by feelings outside of the verbal expression. Look for it and read it in its bodily manifestations, physical expressions, non-verbal acts, eyes swelling with tears, arms and hands aching to touch the other shown in brief beginnings of movements, a leaning toward, a micromomentary facial expression of crying, and imitative of the acts being empathized. Sympathy may be less non-verbal and more verbal in expression, especially if it approaches more superficial feelings of identity with the other.

Empathy has been behaviorally defined as unconscious muscular imitation, what one goes through helping a high-jumper over the bar, in the shoes of the jumper. The empathetic mourner can bring on tears in word or deed, but since the empathic response is not so much the feeling with the survivor but the feeling of and for the departed, as if experiencing the departed’s death.

An Interpolation (5/1/11)

[This interpolation comes long after I wrote this essay originally because I had a very strong reminder of how empathy works: unconsciously! I was watching horses in a horse-jumping contest event just today, Sunday, May 1, 2011, and without awareness, I felt myself empathizing that horse and rider trying to make a faultless ride of the course; I was emotionally aroused at every barrier, and especially the multiple and water jumps.

[As long as I’m here editing, let me interpolate another point. I find myself empathizing with the damndest things. YES, THINGS! Inanimate things. Maybe this is not empathy. But for now consider it somewhat near. I am almost ashamed to say it. Well, I won’t, now. Let me work on that a bit more before I return to the subject.]

[(6-8-11) Well here it is. When I am shaving, I try to think of the electric razor doing its job. How would “it” like to move around my face in order to do “its” best and most efficient work? I look at it from my razor’s point of view, “not too fast here, dense, tough little buggers, so slow and easy to get the little bugger’s heads into the hole and be snipped off without tearing ’em out. It seems that I actually can and do envision the encounter of cutting blade with the tiny hair. Now go uphill against the grain and get ’em all.) And so on. Those words were not there at all, but the feeling was, as a sort of wordless attitude in sync with the machine and my driving of it. There are many other instances of “empathizing” with inanimate objects. A tree outside our window has a long heavy limb. My arm-limb has held things up and had to hold whatever it was for a very long time. You see what I am driving at here? I would not be surprised if that limb were to be the first to fall in a high wind. Maybe I should trim it. Out of empathy.]

[Interpolation. February 10, 2015] I have recently experienced the most powerful, very deep sense of empathy I have had for a very long time. I viewed the man in an iron cage who had a look of extreme anguish on his face, almost certainly in dread of what was about to happen to him. He was doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. He was the Jordan pilot captured by the sub-human, ISIS (Islamic State in Syria) killers, definitely not human beings with the humanity that speaks well for their belief system. I cannot express in words the deep emotion of empathy that picture made me feel. I laid awake for hours that night suffering an automatic and uncontrollable empathic emotion, almost to sickness, the hate I felt, and the compassion for that man. I believe that I am not alone in that response. I thought that the entire world should declare a world war against those less-than-human murderers. Their atrocity indicates that we must deal with a people with the narrowest of minds. Now I think of it in the present and that feeling reverberates still. (End of Interpolation, 2-10-15)

When asked what should be done about the apathy of the American voter, some will answer, “I don’t know and I don’t care.” What do the apathetic say when a friend or acquaintance dies? “I’m sorry for your loss”, or a similar, safe and almost thoughtless, well practiced, easy, memory-bit, “knee-jerk” cliché. Sincerity is not required.

Some people do not like to discuss death. Their antipathy extends to the demise of friends and family. The subject is excluded from their attention. I do not understand it. Even on a more philosophical plane the subject is taboo. Unreal! I know one person who has to bury the topic in talk of a heavenly paradise, and there he stays, ever comforted. The boo-boo has been kissed and made all right.

Writing a letter of condolence in each case is daunting. I try to evoke what it was like to stand in the presence of the friend or acquaintance, picking some accurate descriptive words, avoiding any religious overtones about a belief in what happens to the departed after passing. For a more distant loss, I would try to define exactly the nature of what was lost. If a loss can be attributed to a known life-style that “earned” its sudden end, feelings are different for the distance or nearness of the individual, and any expression of sorrow probably focuses, not on the obvious lesson to be gained by the aggrieved or on the suffering of the departed, but on offering help and sympathetic listening to the aggrieved.

To understand is not to sympathize. To empathize is not to sympathize.

(10/15/2011) Another After-thought Regarding “Empathy”

This subject appears to have many facets. I have been thinking about the ubiquitous operation of “empathy”. However, I think there must exist somewhere a study of people’s empathic responses. I am sure the researchers would find that some people have a surfeit, and some people have a serious deficit of empathy. The latter may be the cause of many marital conflicts and breakups. I do not know if trouble would be caused by one having too much empathy, whatever that may look like. Can you imagine that? Very interesting. (If you find such a study, I’d like to see it.)

I can imagine one half of a man-woman relationship desiring more empathy from the other, thinking, “Please notice my anguish about a problem plaguing me! I need to talk about it. Can’t you read my facial expressions? I know they are there, my face all strongly twisted out of shape, screwed up with deep conflict lines. I feel them there. I saw them in the mirror. Now I put them there for you to see, but you are dead to my expressions. Why cannot you respond? I am deeply troubled. I need help, but I cannot appear to whine about it. You seem dead to my expressions. I want you to notice them, as evidence that you care. And I need you to open the discussion. You being proactive would tell me something about you that I would admire: you are sensitive toward me.” Or words to that effect.

The greatest of these, the most important of the “-pathies”, I say, is the one that is becoming most prominent as the Zeitgeist of our time, empathy. As testament to that assertion, look at this list of books on the subject, taken from Amazon:

  1. The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis by Jeremy Rifkin (Hardcover – Dec. 31, 2009)[I am currently reading this book. I have read this author before. I would have nominated him to be the U.S. Supreme Court nominee, regardless of the fact that he has never been a judge. His knowledge background qualifies him to judge the laws of society, by universal standards as well as U.S. societal standards.]
  2. The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal (Hardcover – Sept. 22, 2009)77
  3. The Power of Empathy : A Practical Guide to Creating Intimacy, Self-Understanding and Lasting Love by Arthur P. Ciaramicoli and Katherine Ketcham (Paperback – Feb. 27, 2001)
  4. Empowered by Empathy : 25 Ways to Fly in Spirit by Rose Rosetree (Paperback – Nov. 15, 2000)
  5. Teaching Children Empathy, The Social Emotion: Lessons, Activities and Reproducible Worksheets (K-6) That Teach How to “Step Into Others’ Shoes” by Tonia Caselman (Paperback – 2009)
  6. Mirroring People: The Science of Empathy and How We Connect with Others by Marco Iacoboni (Paperback – June 23, 2009)
  7. Dancers Between Realms – Empath Energy, Beyond Empathy by Elisabeth Y. Fitzhugh (Perfect Paperback – Nov. 1, 2006)
  8. Listening With Empathy: Creating Genuine Connections With Customers and Colleagues by John Selby (Hardcover – Jan. 30, 2007)
  9. Men, Women, and the Power of Empathy: You Can Really Connect with Him! by A. R. Bob Maslow (Paperback – Nov. 7, 2006)
  10. The Empathy Gap: Building Bridges to the Good Life and the Good Society by J. D. Trout (Hardcover – Feb. 5, 2009) – Bargain Price
  11. Teaching Empathy: A Blueprint for Caring, Compassion, and Community by David A. Levine (Perfect Paperback – Apr. 13, 2009)
  12. Empathy and Moral Development: Implications for Caring and Justice by Martin L. Hoffman (Paperback – Nov. 12, 2001)
  13. Roots of Empathy: Changing the World Child by Child by Mary Gordon and M.D. Daniel J. Siegel (Paperback – Sept. 1, 2009)
  14. Why Empathy Matters: The Science and Psychology of Better Judgment by J. D. Trout (Paperback – Jan. 26, 2010)
  15. Wired to Care: How Companies Prosper When They Create Widespread Empathy by Dev Patnaik (Hardcover – Jan. 19, 2009)
  16. The Heart of Being Helpful: Empathy and the Creation of a Healing Presence by Peter Roger Breggin (Paperback – Apr. 28, 2006)
  17. Understand and Care (Learning to Get Along, Book 3) by Cheri J. Meiners (Paperback – Aug. 15, 2003)
  18. Creating Harmonious Relationships: A Practical Guide to the Power of True Empathy by Andrew LeCompte (Paperback – Feb. 1, 2000)
  19. Empathy (Little Sister’s Classics) by Sarah Schulman and Kevin Killian (Paperback – May 1, 2006)
  20. Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-downs by Sandra McLeod Humphrey and Brian Strassburg (Paperback – Nov. 20, 2007)
  21. Empathy Reconsidered: New Directions in Psychotherapy by Arthur C. Bohart and Leslie S. Greenberg (Hardcover – Apr. 1997)
  22. Learning to Listen, Learning to Care: A Workbook to Help Kids Learn Self-Control & Empathy by Lawrence E. Shapiro (Paperback – July 2008)
  23. Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper
  24. Empathy and the Novel by Suzanne Keen (Paperback – Mar. 12, 2010)
  25. Rediscovering Empathy: Agency, Folk Psychology, and the Human Sciences (Bradford Books) by Karsten R. Stueber
  26. All Better by Leigh Attaway Wilcox and Lee Wildish (Hardcover – Oct. 1, 2007)
  27. Toxic Psychiatry: Why Therapy, Empathy and Love Must Replace the Drugs, Electroshock, and Biochemical Theories of the “New Psychiatry” by Peter Roger Breggin
  28. Mastering Communication with Seriously Ill Patients: Balancing Honesty with Empathy and Hope by Anthony Back, Robert Arnold, and James Tulsky
  29. Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential–and Endangered by Bruce D. Perry and Maia
  30. The Compassionate Brain: How Empathy Creates Intelligence by Gerald Hüther and Michael H. Kohn (Paperback – June 13, 2006)
  31. Abstraction and Empathy: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style (Elephant Paperbacks) by Wilhelm Worringer (Paperback – Nov. 14, 2007)
  32. Empathy in the Global World: An Intercultural Perspective by Carolyn Calloway-Thomas

The present debates on health care between Republicans and Democrats revealed one fatal flaw among the Republicans, a deficit of empathy, to put it mildly. If you watched closely
and took note of the preponderance of anecdotal (heart-rending) evidence offered by the Democrats, contrasted by the almost total lack of such stories in the Republicans’ views on health care, you must conclude that the Republicans’ policies were/are motivated by something other than empathy for the needy.

REMEMBER THIS:

In all situations charged with such emotions as empathy or sympathy, there is only one very difficult, important duty to be performed in any response: to offer imaginative, constructive, “concrete” SUPPORT.

March-28-2013: In the Name of “EMPATHY” and “Empathic Behavior”

This idea is a “wild hair” sort of thought. You know what a “wild hair” is. It is a hair on your body growing outside of the place where hair is normally allowed to grow. You usually clip it, but it may grow back. So, let’s proceed with my idea, wild as it may be. However, I think it may help to define “empathy” to some degree beyond the normal definition.

My “Wild Hair” Idea Exemplifying Empathy

Have you ever heard of “Sadie Hawkins’ Day”??? It was the invention of Al Capp, the author of the comic strip, “L’il Abner”. On that day, the girls would have permission, and on that day only of all 365 days, to turn the tables on the boys and ask the boys for a date to go to the Sadie Hawkins’ Day dance. Well, that invention caught on in the high schools of the United States, and there were “Sadie Hawkins’ Day Dance” activities and the girls had to ask the boys. In that way, the girls took the initiative and gained some notion of what it’s like to be a boy and go through the emotional experience when asking for a girl to go out with him on a date. In my book, that is an experience increasing empathy. Do they still have the “Sadie Hawkins’ Day” event in secondary schools?

Now here’s my really, really wild hair! For the ultimate experience in “empathy”. In the name of carrying the “Sadie Hawkins Day” idea somewhat further. This has no chance of being done, but, at least, you can imagine it, but only If you have a good imagination! For one day only, nationwide (I dread to say this), the males must feel what it is like for women to wear a skirt and blouse. Many women know what it is to wear pants and a shirt (but, oddly, not a tie!) But men in skirts? And blouses? And minding your exposed legs, when hurrying, and sitting? What about the shoes? What male shoe goes with a skirt? HMM!
As I said, a wild hair, but it probably is one that does not have legs to go far. Just think of it. Men in Scotland wear kilts, but I know nothing of that habit. Maybe wearing kilty styley skirts would give men the empathic experience I think they should have, and do it all in good fun. Give it a name, a catchy name.

O, I can hear those super macho guys now. Can’t you? They might never conceive of identifying with females in an empathetic manner. There are men who take full advantage of women without ever having seen life from the feminine perspective.

I came up with the idea as I watched so many women mind their skirts and legs on many television shows. For instance, the Tonight Show of Jay Leno, and many others of that kind. Some manage very well their guarding the very suggestive movements they could make and, I suppose, are very much aware of their behavior. In fact, I believe that some women are popular as guests solely because they add some sort of enticement to watch, attributable to their appeal in that department, and are encouraged to wear skirts rather than pants. Tricks of the trade. On that new, national Sadie Hawkins’ Day, let’s see how the men do it. EMPATHY WILL BE SERVED, don’t you think? Just a wild hair.

In sympathy, sorrow is feigned or genuine, is a social gesture, a feeling for the aggrieved, tinged with a subliminal fear of loss of one’s own life with vivid imaginings, expressed as hate of the unjust or undeserved death.

Regarding Antipathy

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a story on “antipathy”, A Mortal Antipathy in 1885. If you would like to read it, go to this url, which has the Gutenberg edition: [http://www.gutenberg.org/files/2698/2698-h/2698-h.htm]

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Published in: on July 26, 2007 at 10:51 am  Comments (355)  

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