Empathy: Killed over Time, or Simply Never Developed?

I am currently reading this book, not so much by choice but because I took the ÜberGirls and the fruit of the AlGato/Terasita coupling to the library on Tuesday, limiting my book choices to what's available on the first floor. (For those of you who have been inside the Downers Grove Public Library, you know what I mean.)

It's a pleasant little book, certainly not rife with earth-shattering insights, but its focus on the importance of empathy has been coloring my worldview for the last couple of days.

Take this story from B.A.'s blog, for example. The boy in the story felt completely justified in trying to stab his father in the torso because he gave him more than one warning to stay away when the dad came to talk to him about getting a haircut. Even given the relative immaturity of a 15-year-old, how removed from the concept of others' suffering does a person have to be to consider running them through with a sword a fitting punishment for discussing a haircut?

On a less dramatic but far more common note, this commentary in today's paper made me sad. It's an age-old problem with accelerating effects. Like this. And the blog writer has such a lack of empathy as to blame the child and his parents instead of the bullies.

I am wondering if we come naturally equipped with empathy, but lose it through a process of desensitization? By objectifying others? Dividing the world into "winners" and "losers?" Judging people by utterly ridiculous standards like what brand of shoes they wear? Or being subjected to pain oneself so often, that desensitization becomes a method of self-defense?

Or is empathy something that needs to be learned, and is simply not being taught to some people? Do some people feel empathy is "weak," and a lack of it necessary to survive in the world? Do some parents feel they are doing their children a favor by not teaching them empathy? If it's not taught to someone as a child, how hard is it to learn as an adult? Or re-learn?

For myself, as difficult as it is to watch my child suffer in any way, I would much prefer my daughter to be unpopular than a bully. But what will I do if it's not so much a matter of being left out of a certain group, or occasionally teased, but a day in, day out torture to go to school? How do you deal with someone who doesn't care how his/her behavior, or the behavior of his/her children, affects someone else?

As I ponder questions like this, it boggles my mind how so many can read the relentlessly pro-empathy statements of Jesus, yet come to profoundly anti-empathetic conclusions on their meaning.
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