March 13th, 2013


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.

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  1. Kim

    The Internet can certainly be a world of overwhelm at times. You do have to set boundaries or you’ll find yourself unable to function. This is one reason why I have no blog, Facebook page, or smartphone – they’re too demanding and intrusive. It’s also why I rarely comment on other people’s websites; I don’t want them to feel required to respond, especially if they have never met me in real life.

    So many things can go wrong in a conversation, but interactions on the Internet are often fragile and deceitful and just plain weird on so many levels. If the trolls don’t wear you out, the sad stories, political posturing, and hateful opinions will. There are some things that are beyond understanding and there are times when you must turn away – the culture of the Internet promotes this need to know it all, all the time, but some of us aren’t hardwired for this constant bombardment of information.

    My family ridicules me at times because I’m not on Facebook, but every time they complain to me about a “Friend” who has posted something stupid, I gently remind them that they wouldn’t have to deal with any of this if they hadn’t signed up for it. There’s nothing wrong with saying “ENOUGH” and turning off the Internet, Ryan – or at least parts of it. You don’t have to be everything to everyone.

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