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How significant is empathy?

What is it that our world is really lacking in?

Alicia Rios Wilks

Burt Goldman once described the scale running from ‘evil’ to ‘goodness’ as a measure of empathy. He described evil as a complete lack of empathy, and goodness as an abundance of empathy. I found this to be a very interesting point, and sparked some thoughts on the significance that empathy may have in our world.

So firstly, what is empathy exactly? Empathy can be defined as identifying with, and understanding, another being’s feelings – which I would say requires an appreciation of their situation, and often their difficulties. In that respect, it requires a degree of compassion, sympathy, and a certain amount of love. Now what do I mean by love? The great Dalai Lama XIV once said, “Love is the absence of judgement.” Eckhart Tolle says “Love is a state of being...To love is to recognize yourself in another.” Both these definitions are coherent with a state of ‘goodness’, or empathy.

Given this definition, it is reasonable to say that an act we might call ‘evil’ does stem from an absence of empathy – otherwise how could the person possibly do it? If they could sense, understand, and even feel the pain of the victim, then it would be highly unlikely that they commit the act. And this can be true to varying degrees. For example, a slight lack of empathy may cause someone to do something that isn’t terrible, but isn’t ‘good’ either. A person with a lot of empathy is highly unlikely to ever do something that would cause harm, and they’re also highly likely to act in ways that help people, or create a positive impact.

So in that case, perhaps empathy is in fact the key to end conflict, the key to create peace and harmony, and even the key to save the planet. If we become more aware, more conscious of the experience of other beings – humans, animals and plants alike, if we live in a state of empathy, then maybe so many, if not all, of the world’s problems would disappear.

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