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The German word for empathy is "Einfühlung" and was coined in the late 1800s. It means "feeling into."
Empathy is about understanding other people's feelings. Some think empathy means the ability to read fellow human beings or simply feeling connected to people. Others see it as a moral stance about showing concern for others.
Psychologists point out that defining empathy as the act of stepping into someone's mind to experience their feeling can lead to some tricky moral dilemmas.
We naturally have more empathy for people closer to us. Our empathy and affinity for others decline the further people are from us.
But our natural empathy for those closer and more similar to us can be used to provoke antipathy towards those who are not like us. Politicians and activists often play to the idea of "us and them," deploying empathy and identifiable victims to make a political case.
While shared happiness is a very pleasant state, sharing someone's suffering, such as a loved one, can be very difficult.
Our brain activity in the regions associated with pain is partially mirrored. At worst, people feel "empathic distress," which leads to apathy, withdrawal, and feelings of helplessness. It can even be bad for your health.
To be compassionate, you don't have to share somebody's feelings. It's the idea of extending kindness towards others.
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Tragic stories and imagery make us sympathetic and wanting to help.
But a recent study reveals that the feeling of sympathy is not proportional to the help given by the person. A desire to help, or to contribute is more valuable for any tangible or fruitful result.
Feelings of sympathy do not necessarily lead to any action to end the suffering - they may cause a feeling of helplessness.
When people have the first-hand experience of pain and suffering, the desire to help arises from deep within, as they know the intricate details, and are motivated to help others who are in peril. This is called the Altruism born of suffering.
People who haven't experienced similar hardships themselves will find it hard to relate to others suffering. However, the desire to help can be invoked by showing them the effectiveness of the method, as well as the larger picture.
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In interpersonal conflict, all parties are motivated to maintain a positive moral self-image. However, different parties are likely to create very different subjective realities. Offenders tend to downplay the severity of the transgression, and victims tend to perceive the offenders' motivations as immoral.
The mindset one develops - as a victim or a perpetrator - affects the way the situation is perceived and remembered.