It’s been said recently, but not by me (I’m far too empathetic to dis someone’s theory) that we are less empathetic than we were twenty years ago. I don’t know how they decide these things; I remember the incident of Kitty Genovese who was stabbed on the street in front of dozens of witnesses who did nothing to help her. That was in 1964, close to fifty years ago.
I don’t think much has changed, really. I remember reading about that incident, and young as I was, feeling the horror of that young woman having help so close at hand, but no one did help her, even people she knew by name and called out to. I think I vowed then that I would not stand by and let someone suffer, if it was possible to help. Yet, there are circumstances in which I would probably hesitate to interfere, not being sure of what was happening. In the above scenario though, there were no wishy-washy circumstances, just the need to provide help immediately. So, the question is: Is empathy a thing of the past?
The question came up with social researchers because of all the time spent on social networking sites, and general computer work. We have lost touch with each other, they say, and thereby have lost the ability to be empathetic, too. This change has appeared in just the last twenty years. I haven’t seen the study, but does it address the fact that we are connected globally and when there is a crisis in the world, we see, read, and hear about it immediately, and contribute to it financially?
Recently, I watched an episode of ‘What Would You Do?’. The producer set up different circumstances and filmed passer-bys to see whether they would help, or not. When it came to people, observers were ready to leap to the fore and offer assistance. It was only when there was an animal involved that people seemed to avoid the situation. Finally, some young boys saw the dog’s distress in a parked, hot car, and called 911. Now, that’s the younger generation, who supposedly haven’t got a developed sense of empathy. Turns out, their mother taught them to be young knights-in-armor. I taught my son the same things; come to someone’s aid, if they need it. I’m not sure where they filmed this episode, but I haven’t been able to leave my dog for more than a couple of minutes without having a civilian police person come along to report it. I had to take her with me for awhile; she kept jumping out our window at home, and coming to look for us. Finally, I just let the car run, and using an extra set of keys, locked the car.
I don’t believe computers are causing us to lose empathy; that is always a question of choice. You can choose not to get involved, as Kitty’s neighbors did, or you can choose to see that as a fellow human being, you have a duty to help. ‘Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.’