Our Collective Lack of Empathy
Lifehacker had an article a few weeks ago that I finally got around to reading this week. It’s about how “walking in another person’s shoes” actually makes us less empathetic. That those in the community, going through the experience themselves, have less empathy than those outside the situation.
The article quotes the study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology:
We found that people who endured challenges in the past (like divorce or being skipped over for a promotion) were less likely to show compassion for someone facing the same struggle, compared with people with no experience in that particular situation…Taken together, these results suggest that people who have endured a difficult experience are particularly likely to penalize those who struggle to cope with a similar ordeal.
Listen, you can sort of see it in our community when we play the Pain Olympics, or we judge another person for the way they’re choosing to address their infertility, but I wonder if those researchers — overall — would find the same results if they were to study us.
Because I think there is a big difference between the empathy we feel for universal experiences vs. the empathy we feel for specialized experiences — the ones that most people will not go through. The example of bullying in the article is a universal experience. Most people will feel the effects of bullying at some point in their life.
But infertility is something most people won’t experience, and because of that, I think it brings out a level of support missing from the general world.
I think you can get more empathy here from other IFfers than you can get from the general population, and that is perhaps because we know the two-fold level of emotional pain that comes from infertility: It’s not just that you’re dealing with the emotions of infertility. You’re also dealing with the emotions of not being like the rest of the world around you as you deal with the emotions of infertility. And triggers are always around you, in the form of pregnant women and babies and happy families eating next to you in restaurants and baby clothing sections at clothing stores.
I don’t know. I’m just thinking back to all the times when I’ve been at a baby-centric life cycle event and while the general circle of women aren’t very empathetic, a fellow stirrup queen will always walk by and rub my back or give me a meaningful look for a moment. And I know that they know. And they know that I know.
Maybe we’re just the exceptions to the rule?
What do you think? Do you get more empathy from people who have been through infertility or people who have not?