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Compassion and Empathy: Natural, Learned or Non-existent?

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posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 02:17 PM
Compassion and Empathy: Natural, Learned or Non-existent?

I'm curious to know if people are born with compassion and empathy, or if they are emotions that are learned, and why some people who for whatever reason, lack even an ounce of empathy or compassion for anyone or anything.

I'm talking about being able to understand and care about another person's situation and to posses compassion toward another human being. Are empathy and compassion becoming obsolete?

I have been disgusted as I've read several posts on this board. It's not something I've just noticed, but now with the recent devastation in Haiti, I've been seeing more and more posts that make me wonder.

I've taught my children to be empathetic and compassionate towards others, but I like to think that they were born with these emotions and I've just reinforced those feelings in them.

If these are learned traits, then it is up to the parents to teach your children about honesty, compassion, empathy, sympathy, sincerity, kindness, morality etc. Are you letting your children down? Are you raising another emotionless child that has no morals and shows not one shred of compassion towards someone who is hurting? These emotionless children are the ones growing up caring only about themselves, or worse yet, are the ones who are filling up our prisons because of heinous crimes they've committed against others. And for the record, I'm not saying every emotionless person will commit an act upon others, but I would bet my last dollar that most of the people in prison for committing crimes against others lack any understanding of compassion or empathy.

No, you don't have to have religion in your life to be a good, decent person, who cares about others.

Are some people born lacking these traits?, ......can they be learned?, or there no hope for some?

I would like to know if I'm the minority, or if there are others who think like I do.


posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 02:40 PM
reply to post by virraszto

I lean towards the born with it scenario. My son is going to be a year old in Feb. and already when I am having a tough day or anything like that he comforts me. Hugs, a smile all out of nowhere on my bad days. Maybe it is all in my head but I like to think my son can pick up on those little things ^_^.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 02:42 PM

I have none for people generally.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 02:52 PM
It learned. My love is infinite due to knowledge.

It takes a feeling of resposiblity and desire to understand, then alter peoples moods. Most of all it takes faith that something is there to understand in the first place.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 02:56 PM
For myself: definitely "born with" I've alwys been empathetic, and I remember being this way since very, very young. my son has alot of emotion, and is very smart for a 2 year old, but I dont see the same traits in him, but he knows emotion very well for his age. we'll see where that leads in a few yrs =))

Love and Light, Ronco

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 02:56 PM
reply to post by virraszto
It's difficult to say. They certainly exist. I studied Psych at university, but I'm rusty now. Empathy was an aspect of human psychology that was widely studied. It's a spectrum trait whereby we may have a lot of empathy or very little. In abnormal psychology, the absence or shortage of empathy is frequently used as a benchmark of socio-psychopathology. Although I forget where right now, empathy has an organic location in the brain...limbic system?

I totally agree about the recent Haitian threads. Thousands of people met their deaths in thousands of unusual ways. Children and babies buried in rubble. Survivors left with the grief of loss and still in shock. Food shortages, noise, strangers everywhere and scared it would happen again. It's still chaos there now. And here on ATS freaky guys try to get a few flags by posting something shocking like 'they deserve it.'

I don't know if empathy and compassion can be taught. A bad parent or a bad life can stunt the growth of empathy. Attachment disorder is a modern tag for what happens if babies (under 2) don't get all the love they should. If we can stunt empathy, it seems logical to say we can nurture it too. A physical sign of infant neglect is the back of the skull being flattened...a sign of a baby left on its back in the cot. The few kids I've worked with that have this have been low on empathy IMO.

Empathy is a subject close to my heart and I could ramble about it for a long time, so I'll leave it here. Even if it can't be taught, we should keep trying to teach it. Role models, examples and reinforcing generous acts with praise and rewards should be an active part of sentient life.

Try to be 'good' and hope it's a better example to others than being self-centered or 'bad.'

Flagged: out of empathy for your good intentions

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 03:41 PM
I would say it is innate, but along the way there are external forces that contort our mindset and skew our view of the world.

Personally, I would say the majority of those forces are public schools, and some programming on television.

Some people continue to harbor the views they do through life, and some find different ones that are more in tune with what I believe we're already born with.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 03:48 PM
I go for Learned:

I have never lived with my mother or father; when I was 7 months old my mother left me with a relative and ran away because she was afraid of my father. My father paid people to take care of me, and I lived with two of his wives for a time before my grandmother stepped in when I was six. She took me in so I could start school.

My grandfather was a physically violent man, my grandmother was emotionally violent. I wasn't shown any warmth, or given encouragement, any attention I got was negative.

It would have been obvious to most present day teachers that I was already 'acting out' by the time I was seven. I was depressed and I isolated myself. I had no friends, no-one to play with at home. I had no way to learn how to be human.

By the age of nine, I was deeply angry. I was walking out in the pasture behind my grandfather looking for something big enough to hit him with, but I knew if I did he would probably kill me so I was looking for something that I could finish him with.

Jump forward ten years:

When I got out of school, I went to college but I didn't have a clue about how to get along in the world and I just dropped out of society. I spent seven years wandering and drifting, stealing to eat, sleeping where I could, doing what I needed to to keep warm.

I had no idea how to be human, but over the years I have learned how. I have learned to bond and how to care to a degree.

Thing is though, those things need to be learned early to be learned completely; its a little like the children raised by wolves and then adopted by human parents, they never quite learn language and social skills. I am still quite reclusive and mistrustful, and I have real problems forming friendships.

I also believe there are people in the world that just don't have it in them to learn to be human, the sociopaths and flat-out serial killers and predators. Some are born this way, others are damaged beyond healing.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 04:46 PM
reply to post by Inediblebulk

I'm wondering if perhaps it is something one is born with, but must be nurtured to fully bring these emotions out?

I had a similar upbringing, but I have always been compassionate and empathetic towards others, even when I wasn't shown the same.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 05:02 PM
I think both. The capacity for empathy and compassion is probably innate. But what you do with them, whether and how you act on them, can change over a person's life.

You yourself said that you taught your children to act on their empathy and compassion. If they didn't know what you were talking about, then it would have been very hard to teach them.

A lot of physicians will tell you that what attracts them to healthcare is some variety of empathy and compassion. Of course, as soon as they are in that field, then they must "re-learn" how to express their compassion.

Physicians will inevitably interact with, and even sometimes inflict, a good deal of pain and suffering. If somebody is bleeding out, then clarity of thought is needed, not a shared distress at the situation. Some cures are unpleasant to endure, better than the alternative, but worse that just about anything else.

So, physicians "unlearn" one set of responses, and learn another set. With any luck, they won't suppress the empathy and compassion that motivated them to join up in the first place. Although that does seem to happen sometimes.

Hope that that answer makes some sense.

posted on Jan, 17 2010 @ 05:06 PM
Nice thread,

I guess unless you were the recipient of compassion or empathy, it would be more difficult to learn. Learn is a bit subjective though. Some would see one example of great kindness or compassion and that might be enough to make a lasting impression not much is learned just observed. I remember reading an article about the act of kindness and generosity. They discovered the same endorphins are released by the giver as are by the receiver.

This seems to imply that the acts of compassion, empathy,or generosity are done so because the practitioner gets something from it just as much as the recipient. So both parties have their needs met. I don't mean to put a selfish spin on it but it made me think. This is why I have no problem accepting others generosity if they mean it I generously accept. Some people ardently refuse, almost go down swinging, to let someone pay or do them a favor. Part of giving is knowing how to receive.

I still think these uplifting qualities of humankind are our highest expressions.

stars and flags on the house

[edit on 17-1-2010 by sparrowstail]

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