Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Affording a lack of empathy

A psychological study found people who reported themselves of a higher socioeconomic group were poorer at gauging the emotions of others than were those of a lower status.

I think there are oblivious people at all levels of income, but I can see how the wealthier could afford to get away with lacking empathy more easily than the less well off. Or rather I should say: A lack of empathy could prove more advantageous to the wealthy. To be a "have" in a world where there's more "have-nots" could lead one to feel guilty about that advantage, and to achieve some sense of entitlement to deal with it; whether intentional or not, paying less heed to the feelings of others could do well to assuage feelings like one does not deserve what one has.

Of course, the fact that those of us who don't have as much money put up with this aspect of the rich—presumably because we hope to get some of their money—seems unlikely to break them out of their bubble. That we allow them to essentially get away with it—perhaps because they can afford better lawyers—may reveal an envy; we aspire, consciously or unconsciously, to be rich enough to be as much of an a-hole as suits our mood.

It's also entirely likely that being self-absorbed jerks is our nature, and only those who lack the financial wherewithal to force others to tolerate that must resort to developing empathy as a method of feeling better about ourselves. Attuning oneself to the feelings of others seems noble when you believe it is.

Of course, to believe that studies of a small section of society allow one to speak in such generalities, where the complexities of the human experience are flattened into broad strokes, is almost certainly the sort of thing that academics do to feel like they're contributing to society. And I suppose it does give those of us who have the advantages of free time (to ruminate on their finding and wax philosophically about it) something to distract us from feeling guilty about what we have relative to the really poor.

Have to concede that.

I suppose we all have our role to play in the grand play.

1 comment:

  1. Generally, I've observed poor people to be happiest, because they're focused on relationships. Middle-class people are less happy, because they're focused more on things. And rich people are the unhappiest of all, because generally they're focused on money, and don't care about relationships unless they'll help them make more money.

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