This clever and short video presents an idea about empathy I find to be recklessly unspecific. The author, a well known psychologist from Yale University, Paul Bloom, over simplifies empathy as that feeling or tug of wanting to help others. This tug of caring is an important first step towards an informed compassionate response. We need to first appreciate, empathize, with the struggle and suffering of another before we can truly understand the scope and need of a situation. Indeed we can become foolhardy in our belief or urgency to help, however we can use the skill of observation and then insight about why we are ‘feeling’ the pull to help. In this video blog Professor Bloom completely misses the opportunity which empathy provides in learning how to tolerate difficult emotions, practice observation, insight and then respond. Response can mean actual action, or can simply mean a compassionate stance and response to suffering.
He may benefit from watching this inspiring video from Joan Halifax on the necessity of compassion. Halifax describes our radical act of caring, despite the overwhelming feeling that caring is too hard, too unfathomable in an interconnected world where we see suffering from all sides. Halifax points out that our compassion is a tool, a skill which can be honed, and a way to respond the suffering with strength. This is the opposite of Paul Bloom’s message of warning against tuning in to the suffering of others for a fear it will distort our ability to understand how to actually help. Halifax clarifies the steps and process of truly acting with compassion- it is a welcome perspective to counter from Bloom’s disparaging view of our ability to know how to transform our urge to care in to meaningful help.