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The Loss of Empathy in Society Today

There is a growing concern for the apparent decline of empathy in society today.  A study by the University of Michigan found that college students today are showing less empathy than previous decades, a 40% decline in fact.  That is an alarming number.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy.  Empathy is understanding how another person feels or putting yourself in their shoes.  Sympathy is the acknowledgement of another’s hardship and providing them comfort and assurance.

There are 2 components to empathy; cognitive and emotional. 

Cognitive is the recognition or understanding part that drives us to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings, emotional is the reaction to someone’s thoughts and feelings that drive us to respond appropriately.  Both components must be present in order for one to be capable of empathy. A psychopath may be capable of recognizing that someone is in pain, but lack the appropriate response to stopping one’s pain. It is thought that the point when one starts to treat someone as an object  is when they can become capable of cruelty.  We can explain human cruelty with the erosion of empathy.

There are many possible causes of human cruelty, such as Borderline Personality Disorders, genetics, hormones, and/or cultural roots, but social networking may be one of the main causes today.  People are not interacting face to face much anymore.  They Facebook, text, chat online, but in order to be empathetic, one must learn to read others’ faces, particularly the eyes.  People are not born with this ability, they develop it.

However, getting rid of technology is not the answer, but society must find a balance. Empathy is very valuable, maybe the most valuable resource for humanity. Empathy has the power to resolve conflict. It fact, it may be one of the most successful strategies and it costs nothing. 

By: Christie Smith - Fort Worth Campus