Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Empathy—the Hallmark of a Compassionate and Civilised Society

Science is beginning to unravel the mystery of why some people have less empathy than others and the implications are potentially far reaching, not least for the criminal justice system:

Empathy itself is the most valuable resource in our world. It might even have relevance for politics and politicians, so that when we try and resolve conflict, whether it’s domestic conflict or international conflict, issues about empathy might actually be useful. Given this assertion, it is puzzling that in the school curriculum empathy figures hardly at all, and in politics, business, the courts or policing it is rarely if ever on the agenda. We can see examples among our political leaders of the value of empathy, as when Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk sought to understand and befriend each other, crossing the divide in Apartheid South Africa, but the same has not yet been achieved between Israel and Palestine, or between Washington and Iraq or Afghanistan. And, for every day that empathy is not employed in such corners of the world, more lives are lost.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Baron-Cohen adds:

The hallmark of a compassionate and civilised society is that we try to understand other people’s actions, we don’t try to simply condemn them. There is even a question about whether a person that commits an awful crime should be in a prison as opposed to a hospital. When people commit crimes, there may be determinants of their behaviour which are outside their control. No one is responsible for their own genes.

More at http://mikemagee.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/empathy-the-universal-solvent.

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