Monday, February 28, 2011

Empathy leads you to very bad decisions

The above is attributed to Glenn Beck. Not me. Definitely not me.
I was discussing this concept with a friend at lunch and remembered this quote, which I found a long time ago and posted on my Facebook wall.
If you're shaking your head and thinking, "Oh Glenn, what happened to you in a former life?" you're not alone.
Because really, empathy leads to very bad decisions?!? That's the long and short of the situation?
Here's what an actual human being who has the capacity to feel empathy would describe where I suspect Glennie boy, in his inability to not be offensive, was actually going.
1. Using only empathy (or perhaps mercy is a better word) to make decisions can lead to very bad decisions.
2. Using no empathy at all (again, you can substitute mercy for empathy) leads to very bad decisions plus a loss of your own humanity.
With empathy as the only factor in decision-making, you would have no discipline. There would be no jails, no restitution for wrongdoing. Theoretically, if everyone used empathy to make their decisions, we would all be OK, but that's not the case. So we would in fact be in trouble as a society.
But without empathy, we lose our humanity. Period. Imagine a young adult who has committed a crime for which the penalty is 1-15 years. He pleads guilty. It clearly was a mistake, and he clearly does not have a criminal nature. 15 years in jail will neither be an appropriate consequence nor make society any safer. Yet a judge without empathy would impose that.
Or, from one of my favorite books, "The Chamber:" An elderly man was part of a 2-man team that decades before blew up a building and killed two little boys. He was just the driver. He thought the bomb would go off 15 minutes after they left the building in the middle of the night, when the building was empty and no one would die. He hadn't committed a crime since, but after two mistrials, a politically driven district attorney tried the case again. He clearly was not a menace to society, and everybody knew he wasn't the guy who'd actually set the bomb. But he was, in all legal ways, responsible, since he was there. Society got no benefit from executing him.
Without empathy, evil dictators come about. Without empathy we have no humanity.
And yet, empathy cannot be the driving factor every time. There must be consequences for wrong actions. Society would sink into chaos without it.
A decision is rarely black and white, especially those that require empathy. The needs of society as a whole must be weighed against the needs of the individual. The chance of redemption and rehabilitation, while not satisfying the demand for blood, must be considered.
Consider this: We should forgive quickly and freely, but forget rarely and judiciously.

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