I take empathy very seriously. I think the ability to detect and be sensitive to other people’s emotions is an important thing to cultivate. Without empathy, the world can be a very cold and dysfunctional place.
That said, one of my pet peeves is when people extol the virtues of empathy without acknowledging how difficult it is. It’s difficult to feel empathy for people who anger or irritate you. Being empathetic towards an addict can lead to unhelpful codependent behavior. Regulators may let things slide because they empathize with a business leader and want to “help him out.” Therapists often need to maintain a certain amount of emotional distance from their clients in order to help so many people day in and day out.
Empathy sounds all fine and good, but if it isn’t managed well it can lead to problems. In my case, if I spend too much time trying to understand where people are coming from, I will eventually burn out. This happens a lot for me. With the advent of the Internet, it is possible to be exposed to so much raw emotion that it can be overwhelming. I don’t know if one human being alone is capable of processing that much emotion. I’m still trying to figure out how to be empathetic on the Internet without frying out or pulling the plug completely.