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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 12:31 pm 
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Okay, short answer now: I'll think about what you guys said.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Mon Apr 22, 2013 8:02 pm 
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I do think that it's clear that not every criminal causes this reaction; it would be dishonest to suggest that. I also think that it's valuable to work through what it is that makes this so.

Part of the reason that I loved the ending of Dead Man Walking is that the execution was cut with scenes of the horrific rape and murder that occurred. I thought it was a powerful way to balance the pathos of an execution scene.

And all atrocities are committed by human beings and not monsters. That's part of what makes atrocities so horrible.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 8:40 am 
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I think it's human nature for people to feel a more easy empathy for those who remind them in some ways of themselves or people they know. I think that may be why I found myself having empathy for James Holmes. He reminded me so much of people I knew and liked in college. It's also why I felt a more natural empathy for Dylan Klebold than for Eric Harris after reading Colombine. That doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to extend our empathy to those who we identify less with. But I don't think anyone should be chastised for feeling an easy empathy for one person and not another.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:21 am 
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I don't think Vantine's chastising anyone for empathizing with Tsarnaev (or anyone else who's committed an atrocity). Raising a question of why isn't the same as admonishing.

It's true that we can't control what we feel, but that doesn't mean we can't interrogate the components of ourselves that inform those feelings. Emotions don't exist in a vacuum. When I first wake up in the morning, and I snap at my partner for something inconsequential, it's because I can't help that I'm feeling a bit angry. But I'm not angry at whatever inconsequential thing he did; I'm angry because I'm tired and haven't had my coffee. I can't apologize to him without first acknowleding/asking myself why I'm angry. I know this is a trite example, but I'm trying to pick something that isn't loaded. I'm just trying to make the point that we should (and often do) ask ourselves what's informing our feelings. It doesn't mean we need to change the way we feel, or that we're "bad" for feeling that way.

Sometimes, though, interrogating ourselves leads us to change the way we think. And sometimes, that's a good thing--and we don't know this unless we ask.

I'm in the camp of not feeling any empathy for Tsarnaev, and I think that has a lot to do with my definition of empathy being different that what's presented in this thread. However, I do agree that labelling someone as a "monster" is destructive and absolves those who are complicit in creating systemic problems. I don't think any human is a monster. I think many atrocities could be prevented were there a fairer distribution of wealth, stricter gun control, and affordable access to proper mental health services. But true psychosis also exists--and it exists on the fringes, in humans, and not in monsters. No one deserves to be treated like a monster (e.g. torture), and that is what I define as compassion.

I don't think others are wrong for defining empathy/compassion differently than I do. But when feelings are connected to discourse larger than oneself, I think it's pretty irresponsible not to ask the question of why.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:25 am 
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P.S.: Even though the camps of empathy vs. no-empathy seem polarized--there's a lot of common ground between the opposing posts.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 3:42 pm 
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Reading through this, I also was thinking that "empathy" is being used differently than I think of it. If empathy means to understand and/or identify with another's situation, feelings or motives, then no, I don't think I feel empathy for Tsarnaev, the Indian man mentioned above, the rapists, or any of them. I can not identify with the feeling that it would be ok to do any of the things these people have done. I can't understand it, how in their minds it became acceptable.


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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 4:12 pm 
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Here's an interesting piece in reference to the point about brain development made celyn and others upthread. I'm probably about as far from being a scientist as it's possible to be, but I have raised three teenagers (along with having been one myself, and being an aunt to six of them), and I will say that there are a number of ways in which young people cannot be called "adults," regardless of their legal driving, voting, or even drinking privileges. I remember watching a series called "Teen Species" on PBS (?) about ten years ago and thinking, "Yes! This explains so much about the ways kids can simultaneously seem so mature, and yet so utterly incapable of understanding or relating to the needs or interests of others."

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/boston-mar ... d=19019227

And before anyone starts yelling about free will, choices, or "knowing the difference between right and wrong," I'm not arguing against personal responsibility or appropriate consequences; it's just interesting to consider and think about the complex intersections between morality, ethics, chemistry, biology, and any number of other factors at work in the mind of a young person who commits what strikes most people as an incomprehensible act.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:04 pm 
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Desdemona wrote:
the complex intersections between morality, ethics, chemistry, biology, and any number of other factors at work in the mind of a young person who commits what strikes most people as an incomprehensible act.

here the senate is currently debating lowering the age of majority to 16 for criminal prosecutions. i find it ridiculous frankly, remembering myself at 16 or 17, but it's easier to give hard sentences to younger people than to think hard about why they're committing crime and maybe take proactive steps to address these reasons.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:12 pm 
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torque wrote:
Desdemona wrote:
the complex intersections between morality, ethics, chemistry, biology, and any number of other factors at work in the mind of a young person who commits what strikes most people as an incomprehensible act.

here the senate is currently debating lowering the age of majority to 16 for criminal prosecutions. i find it ridiculous frankly, remembering myself at 16 or 17, but it's easier to give hard sentences to younger people than to think hard about why they're committing crime and maybe take proactive steps to address these reasons.
EXACTLY. Less thinking, more simplistic catchphrases and internet memes!

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:14 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:16 pm 
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torque wrote:
don't forget Gunz 4 Everybody!
It's for our freedoms!

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:28 pm 
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Desdemona wrote:
Here's an interesting piece in reference to the point about brain development made celyn and others upthread. I'm probably about as far from being a scientist as it's possible to be, but I have raised three teenagers (along with having been one myself, and being an aunt to six of them), and I will say that there are a number of ways in which young people cannot be called "adults," regardless of their legal driving, voting, or even drinking privileges. I remember watching a series called "Teen Species" on PBS (?) about ten years ago and thinking, "Yes! This explains so much about the ways kids can simultaneously seem so mature, and yet so utterly incapable of understanding or relating to the needs or interests of others."

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/boston-mar ... d=19019227

And before anyone starts yelling about free will, choices, or "knowing the difference between right and wrong," I'm not arguing against personal responsibility or appropriate consequences; it's just interesting to consider and think about the complex intersections between morality, ethics, chemistry, biology, and any number of other factors at work in the mind of a young person who commits what strikes most people as an incomprehensible act.

So, I have a theoretical question for you - are there life-changing things that society should perhaps not allow teens to participate in? I find it fascinating that when they do terrible things, we talk about how they are not adults. When it comes to exercising rights and freedoms, they are mature enough to make their own decisions.

I don't have an answer but I think it's something to consider.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 6:30 pm 
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Desdemona wrote:
torque wrote:
don't forget Gunz 4 Everybody!
It's for our freedoms!

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 7:09 pm 
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Vantine wrote:
Desdemona wrote:
Here's an interesting piece in reference to the point about brain development made celyn and others upthread. I'm probably about as far from being a scientist as it's possible to be, but I have raised three teenagers (along with having been one myself, and being an aunt to six of them), and I will say that there are a number of ways in which young people cannot be called "adults," regardless of their legal driving, voting, or even drinking privileges. I remember watching a series called "Teen Species" on PBS (?) about ten years ago and thinking, "Yes! This explains so much about the ways kids can simultaneously seem so mature, and yet so utterly incapable of understanding or relating to the needs or interests of others."

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/boston-mar ... d=19019227

And before anyone starts yelling about free will, choices, or "knowing the difference between right and wrong," I'm not arguing against personal responsibility or appropriate consequences; it's just interesting to consider and think about the complex intersections between morality, ethics, chemistry, biology, and any number of other factors at work in the mind of a young person who commits what strikes most people as an incomprehensible act.

So, I have a theoretical question for you - are there life-changing things that society should perhaps not allow teens to participate in? I find it fascinating that when they do terrible things, we talk about how they are not adults. When it comes to exercising rights and freedoms, they are mature enough to make their own decisions.

I don't have an answer but I think it's something to consider.
I've been thinking exactly along these lines, and I don't have an answer either (great minds, etc.!). I look back on when I started a family at age 21 (the pregnancy was unplanned, but I happily chose to continue it) and I realize how immature and psychologically unprepared I was, even though I felt like I'd had a lot of experiences. I had been to college, I had traveled (both abroad and on multiple Dead tours), I'd had a bunch of boyfriends, and had dealt with several different living arrangements, from dorms to sharing rented houses to living with the guy who became my first husband, and taken care of five nephews and nieces from infancy, all of whom were in cloth diapers (yes, my older siblings were hippies). And yet in so many ways I was completely unprepared to be in an adult relationship: I was often selfish, resentful, and querulous in regards to my partner, and while I loved that baby more than I'd imagined possible, there were many times I felt overwhelmed, and in hindsight I realize just how instrumental my own mother was in helping me get through and create/maintain the illusion of being a grownup in those first few years (I regret to say that some of this realization has come when it's too late for me to thank her).

I guess I don't really know what I'm trying to say...except that my own youngest child is now 18, and although he is one of the smartest people I know (he is currently translating the Aeneid, and thinks it's totally fun), there are so many ways in which he just doesn't think. And I'm not just talking about leaving the oven on or turning the heat up because it's cold without realizing the window is open; there are times when my kids unintentionally hurt one another or their friends because they fail to empathize - there's that bloody word - with what the other person is feeling, and this is something I absolutely know my ex-husband and I were guilty of because we were not "adults" in the way we dealt with each other and the situations (many of our own creation) with which we had to deal. Responsibility, consequences, sympathy, empathy, consideration, unselfishness, compassion...maybe I just suck, but I can honestly say that these are things I learned about and learned to bring to a relationship after my first marriage failed because of their absence, and which are instrumental to the success and happiness of my current relationship.

Sorry to have made this so personal, but this is some of the stuff I've been mulling over these past few days. And unfortunately I don't have any answers, except that I think there's a lot more to think about.

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Last edited by Desdemona on Tue Apr 23, 2013 7:17 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 7:12 pm 
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Vantine wrote:
So, I have a theoretical question for you - are there life-changing things that society should perhaps not allow teens to participate in? I find it fascinating that when they do terrible things, we talk about how they are not adults. When it comes to exercising rights and freedoms, they are mature enough to make their own decisions.


i don't know what you mean by "life-changing," but i imagine most parents of most teenagers (and most people who can remember being teenagers with any objectivity) would argue strenuously with you about this. i might have been able to keep my grades up while working 20 or 30 hours a week, and that might seem like a sign of maturity, but i was most definitely an idiot when i was a teenager, and my parents knew it. i resented it at the time, but they were probably right to do everything they could to limit my rights and freedoms, because i did terrible, stupid, self-destructive things with no regard for or even interest in the long-term effects of those actions. and i was one of the good ones! my picture was in the paper for scholarships and i was a math tutor and the national honor society treasurer and i volunteered at animal shelters and all that. but on an average friday night you could find me drinking vodka and (probably stolen) robitussin in the cemetery with some person i'd just met but trusted enough to let pierce my ear with a bent safety pin he'd just dug out of his smelly backpack, and that was a really tame friday. it wasn't about not understanding what was right and what was wrong; i was impulsive, and i was bored, and i thought i was pretty smart, and that combination made me reckless. some decisions i could make just fine, but others . . . seriously, if i had a kid like me, i'd want to lock her in a closet from the ages of 11 to 25. of course some teenagers are further along than others, and OF COURSE they don't all harm other people, but i think most people look back on their adolescence with some sense of, "god, how could i have thought that was o.k.?"

eta: desdemona and i were writing at the same time, i guess, so there's some overlap, but i'm too lazy to fix it. guess i'll never outgrow that.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 7:54 pm 
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Interesting question Vantine! My ex lived in Harlem and was talking about how Army recruiters would approach teens like him (at 15, 16, 17) and get them excited to sign up for military service. And the NYPD has a minimum age of 17.5 and a max of 35

I imagine we would have a completely different army or police force if we only allowed people to join after they were mature enough to make careful decisions. After all, there are lives at stake and it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. But then I also know people who are well past 26 who still forget to turn the oven off (ahem) or make unkind choices or turn the heat up without realizing there is a window open, so maybe it wouldn't make that big a difference at all ....

I just want to state that I have nothing but respect for my friends in the military and the NYPD, so none of this is intended as a criticism, but when we talk about things that teens shouldn't be allowed to participate in, I thought first of the idea that you have to be 18 to join the army....

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Tue Apr 23, 2013 9:27 pm 
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The New Yorker did a pretty sympathetic piece on the Tsarnaev brothers: http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2013/04/2 ... lk_remnick

And this was great re brain development: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/boston-mar ... XcsALVQH0c

Quote:
But psychiatrists like Galynker said that a 19-year-old like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would have "difficulty with executive functioning, assessing risk and understanding the consequences of behavior." At 26, Tamerlan, despite his alleged terrorist motives, was "fully matured and [his brain] myelinated."

Myelination is the process by which a fatty layer, called myelin, accumulates around nerve cells. It is a key to healthy brain development.

Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to the influences of others because of the immaturity of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. That is the part of the brain where social consequences of actions are weighed, where planning and forming of strategies, as well as inhibiting behaviors, are rooted.


Quote:
The brain develops from back to front – from the emotional limbic system first to the rational frontal precortex last


Quote:
Jesse Payne, director of undergraduate education at Corban University in Oregon, has created a high school program to teach young people about the immaturity of their brains to help them with better decision-making. "We need to teach kids about their brain so they understand themselves," he said.

He is writing a book, "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life Before 25," which will be marketed to 15 to 25 year-olds." "Bonding, relationships, feelings -- all of those things matter in the teenage years," said Payne. "Not until about the age of 25, and even 28 for boys, do you see executive function, empathy, impulsivity judgment and learning from their mistakes." The car industry, which lowers its rates at age 25, understands the risks, he said. "They figured out long ago that people make smarter decisions late in life," he added.

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 Post subject: Re: Feeling empathy for "monsters"
PostPosted: Wed Apr 24, 2013 6:03 am 
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Quote:
"Not until about the age of 25, and even 28 for boys, do you see executive function, empathy, impulsivity judgment and learning from their mistakes."


This makes so much of my dating life (pre husband) make so much more sense.


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