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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 11:50 am 
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Fee said almost exactly what I've been trying to put into words but just found myself unable to do so.

I'm sure we'll never know what it is that cause most people to do the horrible things they do, but at some point, something went terribly wrong. Whether it was environmental, messed up brain structure, or something else altogether, there is something incredibly sad to me in whatever causes someone to lose (or just never have) humanity. Not to mention that there are genuine structural and/or chemical differences across brains. I'm in no way saying that that empathy should change the course of justice, because it shouldn't. Still, my feelings are what they are, and so long as I don't let my emotions guide my decisions, I'm okay with that.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:23 pm 
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Does any one of you have empathy for the 24 year old, who kidnapped, tortured, raped and tried to kill a 5 year old? Who stuck a bottle almost eight inches long and pieces of candle “into her private parts” causing massive infection which might kill her and that certainly will require many surgeries to fix?

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/21/world ... ml?hp&_r=0

I cannot in any way understand his feelings. And I am okay with that. And I worry that sometimes in an effort to empathize and explain away terrible acts, we are coming close to excusing them. There are millions upon millions of people under 26 who despite their not fully mature brains, do manage impulse control.

ETA: Apparently after the bombing Tsarnaev acted like nothing happened. Just continued about his day. If I were to try and empathize (feel what he would be feeling)., I would imagine him going along with his brother, but then hearing all the news reports of the injured, and feeling some remorse or at least being scared enough to hide. But that isn't what he actually did. http://news.yahoo.com/dzhokhar-tsarnaev ... ories.html

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:49 pm 
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annak wrote:
I have empathy for him, because how awful must it be to know that you are basically cornered, and your life is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better? Being on the run, hurt and exhausted, and then hours and hours of questioning? I don't have a lot of sympathy - I mean, that's what happens when you're a terrible person who does terrible things - but I can imagine the emotions he might have felt and how it would have affected me.


Apparently after the bombing Tsarnaev acted like nothing happened. Just continued about his day. If I were to try and empathize (feel what he would be feeling)., I would imagine him going along with his brother, but then hearing all the news reports of the injured, and feeling some remorse or at least being scared enough to hide. But that isn't what he actually did. http://news.yahoo.com/dzhokhar-tsarnaev ... ories.html He went to school, went to the gym, hung out and partied like nothing had happened.

The crux of the matter is that we can't really imagine the emotions of people who are psychopaths. We can imagine how their actions might have made us feel, but we're not them. Its not that some people can feel empathy and others can't, its that we're indulging in a fiction if we believe that we can feel what someone who has committed incredibly violent acts has felt. Perhaps its an attempt to humanize the attacker, perhaps its a way to feel better about ourselves in reaction to the horrible things we read on FB or that we know our government is going to do to this person, perhaps its something else.

There are posts about how he must have come from a terrible area or been so troubled, but all the evidence is to the contrary - he came here 10 years ago, he was a normal, every day kid, who ended up at Dartmouth preparing to study medicine . He has been described as an angel and a sweet heart by his teachers. http://www.wbur.org/2013/04/19/larry-aaronson My point is just - we have no idea why he did and to pretend that we can feel what he must have felt is to engage in creative fiction.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:53 pm 
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I don't think empathy has anything to do with "explaining away.". I can feel horror and revulsion and be happy with seriously bringing the justice hammer down and STILL encounter someone as a fellow human being. It came up many times in my hospital work that I sat and listened to people with deep empathy while knowing they were molesters or had done horrible things to their families, etc. I felt for them in that moment of being present with them in the same way I'd feel for a saint. I think our ability to do that is what enables our humanity. And it has nothing to do with ignoring the victims or empathizing less with the victims or failing to seek justice (and I generally advocate for harsher punishment than most people I know with similar political leanings).

ETA: I don't think what most people are describing as empathy here is really, since we're talking about people we will never know. I'd describe what I am feeling toward these various people as curiosity more than anything else, and a desire to humanize their narrative in some cases. But I don't think I can empathize from afar so much.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 12:58 pm 
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What does empathy mean to you?

I can listen to people talk about things they've done without judgement and with kindness for who they are in the moment, apart from the context of their history and actions, but if the definition of empathy is "The ability to understand and share the feelings of another" then there are some feelings I can't understand or share.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 1:14 pm 
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I think by that measure we can't share *anyone's* feelings. I don't truly know how any of the victims feel either. I don't know how any of their families really feel, or the law enforcement agents, or anyone in the situation. But I can, and do, imagine how I might feel in any of their shoes. It's not really a conscious thing, it's automatic, so I don't consider this right or wrong.

Sometimes that's just really impossible for me to do - I can't imagine what it would be like to rape a 5 year old for hours. I can't imagine what it would feel like to place a bomb in a crowd. I don't think I'd be capable of either of these things. (and I'm happy with that!) But I can imagine what it might be like to have done something wrong that I can't take back, or to be trapped/imprisoned. Is it exactly what they feel? Probably not. Clearly, we're different people. Does that make it not empathy, or me bad at empathy? Ehhhhh. I don't know? I suppose that we'll find out whether or not the younger Tsarnaev regretted his actions at any point.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 1:45 pm 
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Tofulish, respectfully, you are not qualified to diagnose the guy as a psychopath . . . and that's not a term currently in use in the DSM, I believe! You also don't know that he was studying medicine, do you? As far as I know he was a failing undergrad, and his father was the only person to mention medicine. Respectfully, there may be fiction in your own post about other people's creative fiction.

My thought is that this thread is, for a lot of people, about trying to make sense of a scary violent act. There doesn't have to be one way to make sense of it.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 1:50 pm 
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annak wrote:
I think by that measure we can't share *anyone's* feelings. I don't truly know how any of the victims feel either. I don't know how any of their families really feel, or the law enforcement agents, or anyone in the situation. But I can, and do, imagine how I might feel in any of their shoes.

This is a really good point. No, none of us (most likely) will ever be able to truly 100% understand how it feels to be in the mindset where you are capable of raping a child or putting a bomb in a trashcan. But most of us are also not able to truly 100% understand how it feels to have been at the Marathon when the bombs went off, or how it feels to lose limbs to that, or to lose your 8 year old kid to it. All we ever have is our own experiences to piece together to try to find some shred of a way to relate and try to understand each other.

I'm not saying I understand why he did it, but feelings of being scared, on the run, and watching someone you love die (whether or not he actually felt what I imagine he did)-- those are feelings that I can feel too, at least vaguely.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 2:26 pm 
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celyn wrote:
Tofulish, respectfully, you are not qualified to diagnose the guy as a psychopath . . . and that's not a term currently in use in the DSM, I believe! You also don't know that he was studying medicine, do you? As far as I know he was a failing undergrad, and his father was the only person to mention medicine. Respectfully, there may be fiction in your own post about other people's creative fiction.

Well you're picking out two points that are somewhat tangential and missing the larger point, which is that we don't know enough to know what he was feeling and thinking. I am not diagnosing anyone and apologies for using an inaccurate or offensive term (I found solipsnation's point on pg 3 very interesting) and yes, only his father said he wanted to study medicine.

celyn wrote:
My thought is that this thread is, for a lot of people, about trying to make sense of a scary violent act. There doesn't have to be one way to make sense of it.


And if it helps people make sense of a terrible act to humanize the suspect, then that is certainly an acceptable way of processing, but it doesn't make it any less fictional.

I am just curious as to why some people get the benefit of empathy, like this 19 year old or the Steubenville rapists, but others (like Margaret Thatcher, Pinochet, the man who raped a 5 year old) don't.

I imagine that its because we can identify with them in a way we can't with the others. But that identification can lead us to conclude things about them that may not be true.

And I do think that you can identify with the victims, because their situations are far more like ours - not identical of course, but we have all lost loved ones and known the pain of uncertainty of not being sure what their outcome will be, or being afraid for your child. I think identifying with someone who was able to knowingly assemble bombs out of pressure cookers and ball bearings and nails to do the most damage to passerbys that he didn't know and plant them, and detonate them, is a little more problematic, because I think we're veering into things that most people are not capable of. But maybe I am wrong about that.

I hope I am not offending anyone - if this is a safe space for expressing empathy, then I apologize for posting. I am just interested in the topic and having a discussion about it.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 2:38 pm 
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What's frustrating to me about this thread is people seem to be trying to tell others that they're wrong to experience empathy or sadness for people who do awful things,and I don't understand why.
In my experience, emotions aren't a toggle: feeling empathy or sadness -or just seeing the humanity in a perpetrator does not lessen feeling of outrage or disgust at their actions, nor does it take away from sorrow or sympathy for their victims. None of these feelings excuse a perpetrator or suspect's actions.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 2:56 pm 
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Olives wrote:
What's frustrating to me about this thread is people seem to be trying to tell others that they're wrong to experience empathy or sadness for people who do awful things,and I don't understand why.
In my experience, emotions aren't a toggle: feeling empathy or sadness -or just seeing the humanity in a perpetrator does not lessen feeling of outrage or disgust at their actions, nor does it take away from sorrow or sympathy for their victims.None of these feelings excuse a perpetrator or suspect's actions.


Thank you for saying this so well. Your comment and Fee's are awesome.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 2:56 pm 
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I certainly am not telling anyone they are wrong for experiencing empathy or sadness. I am curious about why some people get the benefit of that empathy and others don't and also if it comes from an identification (young, good-looking, white) and what the pitfalls are.

But again, if its a safe space for just expressing feelings of empathy, then of course that curiousity isn't appropriate.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:03 pm 
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Tofulish wrote:
I certainly am not telling anyone they are wrong for experiencing empathy or sadness.
I am curious about why some people get the benefit of that empathy and others don't and also
it comes from an identification

(young, good-looking, white)


I think this is disrespectful of people trying to process in this thread.


Last edited by celyn on Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:07 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:07 pm 
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T'lish, here's how i would break down the difference between the bombing suspect, Stubenville rapists and say, Thatcher. The Stubenville rapists make me sad because they were CLEARLY socialized to believe that they could test a young woman like an object. This was beyond garden-variety rape culture. Adults and peers essentially told them it is ok to rape. That is tragic. Of course it is far more tragic for their victim, no question.
The bombing suspect is a young person who we know almost nothing about. Obviously, something went very wrong in his life. He is accused of doing something unforgiveably awful. If he is guilty, the rest of his life will be a horror. Yes, it is his own doing, but that does not suspend the fact that he is human and he will probably experience levels of isolation and abuse in prison that i would not wish on any human.

As far as Thatcher, she did systematically awful stuff, then went on to live a prosperous, comfortable life, with good health care. She died of natural causes. I certainly take no joy in the fact she had dementia - that's another thing i would not wish in anyone. GWB's life will probably play out much the same. This is probably grossly illogical on my part, but I guess that people who systematically do bad things, live in wealth and comfort, and never face dire repercussions don't need myl empathy.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:08 pm 
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Celyn, you omitted the word "if" from my statement, which gives it a different cast. I said I was curious IF it comes from an identification. I didn't say that it did, only that I can imagine that it could.

That said, why is it disrespectful to suggest that we identify with some people rather than others?

Olives, thank you for your thoughts. They are very useful, and certainly make sense in my experience as well (I think I said as much in my posts :)).

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Last edited by Tofulish on Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:10 pm 
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Well, empathy can easily be felt for one person and not another. Just because people can feel it for someone doesn't mean they should or have to feel it for another person who committed a different crime, or if because you can feel empathy for one politician you can feel it for all. I'm not sure what the point of trying to force people to generalize their empathy is.

It's all personal, maybe this kid reminds someone of their brother and so they feel a weird feeling of sadness for them. It's not up to anyone else to define that.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:13 pm 
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Tofulish, your implication is clear, and in my opinion reductive and leading. I'm out of this thread.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:35 pm 
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To add more context for who I would feel empathy for: Nicolai Ceacescu (sp?) and his wife. He was awful. I understand why people hated him, and that a lot of justifiable rage led to his execution. But I feel empathy for him in that being dragged on to national TV for a show trial & public execution is probably terrifying.

Also, as far as sexual assault goes, I will speculate that there is a high likelihood, statistically that many of us have been sexually assaulted or have someone very close to is who was. Perhaps some people are more likely to feel empathy for a mass murderer than a rapist, because the rapists' crime hits too close to home? Just speculation, though.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:37 pm 
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Tofulish wrote:
What does empathy mean to you?

I can listen to people talk about things they've done without judgement and with kindness for who they are in the moment, apart from the context of their history and actions, but if the definition of empathy is "The ability to understand and share the feelings of another" then there are some feelings I can't understand or share.


This is what I think empathy is: "Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being" (wikipedia). Sympathy is the part where you share in those feelings (and in my line of work, that's not a great idea because that's how you get burnt out). And using that simple definition, the incapacity to have empathy is what makes one inhuman. The fact that someone has emotions that you can recognize and potentially relate to, though, doesn't actually change any of the actions they've engaged in, it doesn't explain them away, it doesn't mitigate them in any way.

Feelings and actions are not the same things. The idea that one wouldn't be able to recognize the emotions of another person, no matter how "evil" that person might be, when in the same room with them having a conversation with them, is something I can't quite understand. The fact that you can't imagine engaging in some heinous action they committed is really beside the point. Although frankly I don't see why it's harder to imagine placing a bomb in a crowded area than to imagine having your legs blown off by said bomb. They both seem equally unimaginable to me.

Like I said above, though, whatever I might be feeling toward Tzarnaev, the rapist of a 5-year-old, the Steubenville rapists, Margaret Thatcher, GWB, whatever., is not really empathy, because I have never interacted with any of them, and won't ever do so. At best, it's curiosity around who they are as a person and for me, it's not even very strong curiosity.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 3:38 pm 
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celyn wrote:
Tofulish, respectfully, you are not qualified to diagnose the guy as a psychopath . . . and that's not a term currently in use in the DSM, I believe!


No, but "Antisocial Personality Disorder" seems very clinical.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 4:10 pm 
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tofulish, you know i love you, but dude, spoiler that shiitake. no one needs to come across a description like that in a random post.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 21, 2013 5:47 pm 
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littlebird wrote:
tofulish, you know i love you, but dude, spoiler that shiitake. no one needs to come across a description like that in a random post.

Yes. Glad it's not just me who had that reaction.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 1:27 am 
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So then, without considering in detail what was done, how can you really put yourself into the mind of the person who did it? If you sort of skitter around the act without really thinking about it, you're dealing in emotional abstracts-- you're saying, "Oh gosh, that person must be kinda messed up," but HOW messed up are they really?

Somebody did terrible things-- they treated a little girl like a piece of meat, like a toy to be used and broken and thrown away. I absolutely cannot imagine the state of mind that would lead a person to do that. I can't even really approach it. I like kids; I'm sitting here on the couch with my baby asleep next to me, and I can hardly resist picking him up and hugging him because he's such a total sweetie. Not only am I unable to bring myself into a state of mind where I can empathize with somebody who would destroy a tiny helpless person, I am GLAD that I can't, because to pull that into myself I'd have to put myself in their place and that is someplace I never ever would be or could want to be. I cannot and will not imagine it. Anyone who could do such a thing has divorced themselves so far from humanity that they should be captured and studied in order to figure out what happened and why and make sure it never ever happens again.

So, no, I feel no empathy for the monstrous, and I don't think I should feel particularly bad about that.

People who claim empathy for rapists and murderers-- do you put yourself into that state of mind? How do you do it without becoming that monster yourself, even a bit? Or do you just sort of wonder aloud how it got that way? Am I missing the point somehow?

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 6:27 am 
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jogirl wrote:
littlebird wrote:
tofulish, you know i love you, but dude, spoiler that shiitake. no one needs to come across a description like that in a random post.

Yes. Glad it's not just me who had that reaction.


It's not just you.

solipsistnation wrote:

People who claim empathy for rapists and murderers-- do you put yourself into that state of mind? How do you do it without becoming that monster yourself, even a bit? Or do you just sort of wonder aloud how it got that way? Am I missing the point somehow?


I can't speak for anyone else, but for me, empathy is not about putting myself in the state of mind of someone who commits an atrocity. I don't think that that's possible and if it was, it's not a place I would want to go. It's recognizing the humanity of the person who commits the atrocity despite them having gone someplace so seemingly inhuman and having done things that I can't fathom ever doing. It makes it easier for us to compartmentalize rapists and murderers as something other than human; stripping them of their humanity in our perceptions makes it easier to explain the acts because "only a monster, and certainly not a human could do such a thing". But the fact remains, they are human, with the full range of human experience, and for me, empathy comes into play when I recognize that about a perpetrator of violence. This person is more than the atrocity they've committed. Does that mean they should be forgiven for their crimes and the pain and suffering they've caused? Absolutely not. Does it make the heinous act more understandable/less heinous? Absolutely not. But the fact remains, they are human, and sometimes something in that person reminds me of their humanity beyond their crime, and that's when my empathy is triggered.


paprikapapaya wrote:
Well, empathy can easily be felt for one person and not another. Just because people can feel it for someone doesn't mean they should or have to feel it for another person who committed a different crime, or if because you can feel empathy for one politician you can feel it for all. I'm not sure what the point of trying to force people to generalize their empathy is.

It's all personal, maybe this kid reminds someone of their brother and so they feel a weird feeling of sadness for them. It's not up to anyone else to define that.


This. I'm not going to get into a discussion about who I empathize with and why. It's a feeling, and there's no point in quantifying/qualifying it, and it's really starting to bug me that people are constantly have to defend having forking empathy here as if that makes them monsters too.

I mentioned it earlier in this thread, but it's worth mentioning again: I highly recommend the book "Zero Degrees of Empathy" by Simon Baron Cohen.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 6:58 am 
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lepelaar wrote:
empathy is ... recognizing the humanity of the person who commits the atrocity despite them having gone someplace so seemingly inhuman and having done things that I can't fathom ever doing. It makes it easier for us to compartmentalize rapists and murderers as something other than human; stripping them of their humanity in our perceptions makes it easier to explain the acts because "only a monster, and certainly not a human could do such a thing".....this person is more than the atrocity they've committed. Does that mean they should be forgiven for their crimes and the pain and suffering they've caused? Absolutely not. Does it make the heinous act more understandable/less heinous? Absolutely not. But the fact remains, they are human, and sometimes something in that person reminds me of their humanity beyond their crime, and that's when my empathy is triggered.
..
It's a feeling, and there's no point in quantifying/qualifying it, and it's really starting to bug me that people are constantly have to defend having forking empathy here as if that makes them monsters too.

thanks, i feel the same way.
i have stayed away from this because i hate the idea that there is a right or a wrong thing to think or believe. i hate to tell anyone what to think.
empathy can be a feeling, it can also be an exercise. empathy doesn't do anything for the other person, empathy is an exercise in perception that benefits ME. Not so i can be a bleeding heart and say that anything a "monster" does is OK. but so that i can recognize that not everything is simple, and judgment of others is not easy. seeing things from many perspectives is a benefit to me.

i also have a hard time with the idea going around now that thinking about the criminal takes away from the victims. I think that recognizing and honoring victims is awesome. and i do sympathize with the idea that attention is what some people want, and it's best to not give it to them [like in British sports- when the streaker comes out on the tennis court, turn the cameras off]. That's great. But having empathy for one person doesn't make me have any less empathy for the victims. it's not an equation where one side gets more and the other side has to get less.

_________________
Buddha says 'Meh'.--matwinser
I'm just a drunk who likes fruit. -- Desdemona


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