Neuroscientific research shows that when we see someone in pain, the same areas are activated in our brains as when we ourselves are in pain. This is called automatic empathy and though, in itself, it doesn’t result in any change of behaviour, it does suggest that we are not as cut off from our fellow humans as we sometimes imagine. While our prejudices and belief systems may lead us to think that other people are not like us, our physical brains are busily recognising our common experiences – not our differences.
To take this automatic empathy to the next level, a place of compassionate action, is called deliberative empathy and this doesn’t just happen without effort on our part. Our neurons may light up when we see suffering but what we do about it is very much a choice. Nevertheless, at a purely natural level, it does appear that we have the basic circuitry necessary for compassion, empathy, co-operation, reciprocity and all of the productive characteristics we need if we are to learn to live together. Which means that, whatever obstacles are blocking our attempts to build a better, happier and safer world – our ‘nature’ isn’t one of them.
…the evidence reveals that such conduct, far from expressing man’s true self, represents a distortion of the human spirit. Satisfaction on this point will enable all people to set in motion constructive social forces which, because they are consistent with human nature, will encourage harmony and co-operation instead of war and conflict.(1)
If we start to look for possibilities other than the incorrigibility of human nature to explain human dysfunction perhaps we will have a better chance of discovering the real causes. Because if we’ve been misdiagnosing the problem it might explain why our remedies aren’t really working.
(1) The Promise of World Peace, The Universal House of Justice, October 1985.
- Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Cambridge professor wants to re-brand those classed as evil to people who ‘lack empathy’… even if they’re mass murderers (dailymail.co.uk)
- Kindness Counts: Teaching Empathy (education.com)
- Understanding the Importance of Empathy (againstherbetterjudgement.wordpress.com)
- Only human’s have morality, not animals. (psychologytoday.com)