In Praise of Empathy: The Glue that holds Caring Communities Together in a Fractured World


  • Irene G. Wilkinson



In a tumultuous world where populism is on the rise as the result of an enraged, disenchanted, misguided and susceptible populace, empathy, one of the most vital of our moral virtues, is in serious jeopardy.  Fear, prejudice and the rise of the extreme right has provoked a number of nay-sayers to draw our attention to what they believe to be the darker side of empathy, its biases and its vulnerability to subversion.  This paper examines empathy, what it is, how it feels, the neural and environmental basis for its development, our moral obligation to nurture it in our children and how it may be induced in the case of empathy deficiencies.  It considers the influences of gender and hormones on the expression of empathy and its relationship with sympathy and compassion.  Also discussed are the properties of empathy as a motivational, socioemotional mechanism, that evokes kindness, caring, compassion and understanding in each of us, and its potential to neutralize the negativism, cruelty, violence and aggression, so prevalent in the world today.