Oasis had it right: stop crying your heart out. Psychologist Paul Bloom argues that empathy may be working against our best interests, and that compassion may be a better strategy.
Yale psychologist Paul Bloom’s latest book is called Against Empathy, which doesn’t leave you guessing where he stands. Bloom argues that empathy is doing us damage – there is a place for it, but not so high up on society’s pedestal. Empathy can cloud our decision-making, and bring us too close to problems that require action rather than commiserations. Realizing that begs the question: in a world with less empathy, how do we connect and help our fellow humans? Bloom is banking on compassion, and makes a distinction between the two that transcends semantics: empathy is feeling what other people feel, imagining their predicament, echoing their emotional state. Compassion is more rational: you hear the other person’s predicament but you don’t feel their emotion – this frees you up to understand it, and to make headway on a solution. Bloom likens it to seeing a doctor or a therapist. Do you want them to feel and echo your pain or anxiety, or would prefer that they do something about it? If empathy is as overrated as Bloom suggests, then compassion may be the better way to show you care. Paul Bloom is the author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion.
Empathy moves us, but it may move us to make an unethical decision. Conversely, says Bloom, dehumanization is not the ultimate evil we typically assume it to be.
Yale psychologist Paul Bloom likens empathy to a spotlight, shining down brightly to illuminate an actor on a stage. The analogy brings together two opposed camps: those who feel empathy is essential to making good ethical choices, and those who, like Bloom, feel that empathy is just another word for bias. As he explains, bias can be good or bad, but it always emphasizes the suffering of a small group at the expense of a larger set of people. Empathy moves us, but it may move us to make an unethical decision. Conversely, says Bloom, dehumanization is not the ultimate evil we typically assume it to be.
The ranking of empathy from highest to lowest goes liberals, conservatives, libertarians. But the difference is minor, says Paul Bloom. Typically the debate isn’t all over whether or not to empathize – it’s over who to empathize with.
Through the case studies of compassion, racism, and sex, Dr. Bloom explores the intrinsic fundamentals of human nature.
Give Paul Bloom one hour, and he'll teach you "the psychology of everything." Through the case studies of compassion, racism, and sex, Dr. Bloom explores the intrinsic fundamentals of human nature, including some of our most intriguing tendencies, such as the kindness of babies, stereotyping (which can be both detrimental and beneficial), and our universal sense of beauty. Additional topics addressed in the lecture include: "What do studies suggest is the number one characteristic that males and females look for in a mate?", "How can I get someone to have compassion for causes I care about?", "Are we all unconscious racists?", and even, "What do the porn preferences of monkeys tells us about our own sexual choices?"
Paul Bloom is the Brooks and Suzanne Ragen Professor of Psychology at Yale University. An internationally recognized expert on the psychology of child development, social reasoning, and morality, he has won numerous awards for his research, writing, and teaching. Bloom’s previous books include Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil and How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, and he has written for Science, Nature, The New York Times, and The New Yorker.