Empathy: The Thing We All Have In Common?


Have you ever tried to have a discussion with somebody about a movie or TV show that you love, but they've never seen and have no interest in? It's pretty futile. There are no common points of reference. There are no shared, base tenets to fall back upon. There is no desire on the part of the listener to learn about what enthralls you. In fact, the only connection on this matter might be the fact that you both know what movies and TV shows are.


Have you ever tried to have a discussion with somebody about veganism when they're a confirmed carnivore and have no interest in it? It's pretty futile. There are no common points of reference. There are no shared base tenets to fall back upon. There is no desire on the part of the listener to learn about what is important to you. In fact, the only connection on this matter might be the fact that you both need to eat.


I've written previously about methods of influencing others to go vegan, and I've already made the point that having taught the subject, I'm well aware of the styles and methods necessary to persuade another. But this morning it suddenly occurred to me that there is an aspect of this understanding that I have excluded from my consideration: The currency of influence is values.


Without some level of shared values, any attempt at getting another to change their thinking or their actions will be a non-starter. I pondered this for a while with reference to what we eat, trying to discern what common value all humans may share.


If you are familiar with my blogs, you will know that I have previously assumed that the one thing we all share must be compassion; but time and again, that has been proved to be a very flawed assumption. I have found that many people, who would otherwise be regarded as very compassionate, reserved their compassion for humans alone.


Since compassion is simultaneously a value, an emotional response and an action, I had not managed to reach a more powerful imperative than that one to inform people's choices.


​Then today, I arrived at empathy.


It's obvious really. Like compassion, it is also a value, an emotional response and an action. Even more importantly, it is the trigger for compassion, which we may choose when we feel empathy for someone/something else.


Whilst I have been labouring under a false apprehension believing that everyone would feel compassion for animals, everybody has the ability to empathise, right?


Apparently not.


Psychologists have defined psychopaths as lacking in the ability to empathise. But that leaves the rest of us with the ability to empathise as a built in feature of our psyche.


From this, we may extrapolate that in order to persuade those who still eat meat (or think it's OK to steal eggs, milk etc) that it's not a good thing, all we have to do is ask them to empathise with the animals who suffer harm.


Surely that’s an easy thing to do? Even if they may not speak of it in a language we can understand, it is amply evident in their body language, their eyes, and the sounds they make, that they endure terror, agony, heartbreak: a whole host of terrible experiences. Their behaviour demonstrates non-language related emotional responses that humans can spontaneously recognise, even when they are being displayed by another species.


So when I utilise my favoured strategies of presenting people with universally recognisable symptoms such as pain and grief, I can then rely upon the innate ability of my fellow beings to empathise, and in response to that empathy, alter their choices and their eating habits, right?


Apparently not.


Recent updates to scientific thinking have resulted in psychologists making the revised conclusion that psychopaths actually choose not to empathise. And if psychopaths can choose not to empathise, why can’t anybody else?


In truth, the majority of the population knows about or have witnessed via direct or indirect experiences, what we put animals through on their way to our plates. And yet they do not change their habituated eating patterns. That means that they are choosing not to empathise.


Bearing in mind what psychologists conclude, what may we decide upon regarding this substantial grouping within our population?


Clearly, the implication that those of us who have eschewed meat and any animal products are surrounded by psychopaths is probably a little far-fetched. We’re not in imminent danger from them.


Nonetheless, I am left at a loss to understand why my fellow humans obviously, actively choose to ignore suffering in another lifeform, when it is totally within their power to do something about it.


It’s shameful.

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