Do men have a problem with empathy?

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Post by nearly_takuan on Thu Oct 02, 2014 4:58 pm

Enail wrote:<Mod> Folks, let's keep this on topic about gender and empathy, and try to avoid turning it into a discussion about privilege and the respective benefits and drawbacks of being a given gender. Thanks! <Mod>

reboot wrote:<mod hat>
Can we please either take the topic of street harassment to another thread or drop it entirely. I can split out those comments if needed. It is distracting from the topic of empathy, which is more than understanding across gender. It includes age, race, class, age, sexuality, culture, within gender, etc.
</mod hat>

Hm. Would anyone care to provide a starting point for that kind of discussion, then? When the title asks why men have a problem with empathy and the OP focuses on the harassment of women it's no wonder the discussion continued to go down those lines.
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Post by reboot on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:03 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:
Enail wrote:<Mod> Folks, let's keep this on topic about gender and empathy, and try to avoid turning it into a discussion about privilege and the respective benefits and drawbacks of being a given gender. Thanks! <Mod>

reboot wrote:<mod hat>
Can we please either take the topic of street harassment to another thread or drop it entirely. I can split out those comments if needed. It is distracting from the topic of empathy, which is more than understanding across gender. It includes age, race, class, age, sexuality, culture, within gender, etc.
</mod hat>


Hm. Would anyone care to provide a starting point for that kind of discussion, then? When the title asks why men have a problem with empathy and the OP focuses on the harassment of women it's no wonder the discussion continued to go down those lines.

<mod hat>
The OP used street harassment as an example but the real question was why is it that men appear to be less empathetic, as per the topic title. It is better not to spin off on the example and focus on the main question. Especially when it starts to derail into only discussing the example.</mod hat>
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Post by nonA on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:04 pm

Enail wrote:What reboot said, too! Razz

nonA wrote:
The Wisp wrote:*snip*
You're overthinking this.  Just keep the following in mind and you'll do just fine;

  • When a man hears a story, he's more likely to empathize with the men involved.
  • When a woman hears a story, she's more likely to empathize with the women involved.
  • Ergo, men are deficient in empathy.


Do you mind clarifying what you're trying to say here, nonA?

Basically being frustrated at how "empathy" was defined as "ability to empathize with my side of the issue".

It'd be hard to say any more without leading the discussion right back to Who Has It Worse.

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Post by UristMcBunny on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:06 pm

I volunteer as tribute!

So, going off of the last comment in-thread before the derail started, Marty's mention of toxic masculinity could be a good one to jump off of.

Guys in the thread.  I would really be interested to know more about what it's like to experience the toxic side of cultural pressures related the masculinity - is there anything specific to your experiences with trying to empathise with people who have different backgrounds of your own that either supports or contradicts the starting premise of the thread?

Also, to make things easier, let me just split the harassment thing off. BRB.

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Post by Enail on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:08 pm

reboot wrote:
The OP used street harassment as an example but the real question was why is it that men appear to be less empathetic, as per the topic title. It is better not to spin off on the example and focus on the main question. Especially when it starts to derail into only discussing the example.

I'd add that your comment (Nearly_Takuan) is a great example of using the example of street harassment to analyze how failures of empathy/difficulty empathizing can sometimes come about - staying very much on topic.
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Post by UristMcBunny on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:12 pm


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Post by reboot on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:19 pm


MOD
Thanks Bunny. Please take street harassment to the new thread. Continue discussion of perceived gender differences in empathy in this thread

MOD OFF
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Post by Mel on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:31 pm

nonA wrote:Basically being frustrated at how "empathy" was defined as "ability to empathize with my side of the issue".

It'd be hard to say any more without leading the discussion right back to Who Has It Worse.

The OP self-identified as a guy. He asked about guys seeming to have trouble emphasizing with women's issues. People responded with ideas of why that might be because he framed the discussion that way. I'm not seeing anyone saying that empathy only counts when it's toward "my side of the issue."

Let's try not to assume people here are being biased when they're not giving evidence of being so, yeah? (And I direct that to all posters.)
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Post by nearly_takuan on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:34 pm

reboot wrote:
nearly_takuan wrote:Hm. Would anyone care to provide a starting point for that kind of discussion, then? When the title asks why men have a problem with empathy and the OP focuses on the harassment of women it's no wonder the discussion continued to go down those lines.

The OP used street harassment as an example but the real question was why is it that men appear to be less empathetic, as per the topic title. It is better not to spin off on the example and focus on the main question. Especially when it starts to derail into only discussing the example.

I guess I'm mostly thinking about this one:
reboot wrote:<mod hat>
Can we please either take the topic of street harassment to another thread or drop it entirely. I can split out those comments if needed. It is distracting from the topic of empathy, which is more than understanding across gender. It includes age, race, class, age, sexuality, culture, within gender, etc.
</mod hat>

—Oh, somehow I missed this, though. This is good:

Dan_Brodribb wrote:Reading this thread, it strikes me that I'm not sure what people mean when they use the word 'empathy'

So I'm curious. What does empathy mean to you?

- Is it the ability to cognitively put oneself in another's shoes?
- Is it the ability to pick up on another person's feelings?
- Is it about being able to see how our behavior affects others and adapt it? (People don't like it when I catcall, so I should stop catcalling)

As far as comparing men and women, I would say most women I know seem more likely to consider what sort of behavior is socially acceptable in a group and behave accordingly. I HAVEN'T seen any evidence that women are innately better or worse at wrapping their head around what someone who is not them might be thinking or feeling.

I also like what reboot said about empathy improving with practice. If we define empathy as the ability to pick up what another is feeling, I know a number of men and women who seem to have that sensitivity...but that doesn't mean they are using that sensitivity in a particularly skilled way. Some sensitive people can be real jerks just because they find others' feelings so overwhelming that they pull away, try to 'change' others feelings, or control them but because they find others' feelings personally uncomfortable.

Similarly, I suppose there are people who are very capable of intellectually empathizing with someone and even modifying their behavior, but that doesn't mean they actually feel what others feel. This can be a bad thing (con men, sociopaths), but used well, it can probably make them effective (doctors and other professions that require emotional distance to work)

On a mostly unrelated note, one thing that often amuses me when subject of empathy comes up on the internet is how rarely the subject is 'how I can be more empathetic' and how often it is 'How Other People Should be More Empathetic to Me'.

Personally, I judge empathy by the way it is used: I favor the third definition. (That said, I don't understand what the point of catcalling is supposed to be in the first place. I didn't have to be told not to do it. Razz ) Word choice is part of behavior, as is engagement in a discussion.

UristMcBunny wrote:I volunteer as tribute!

So, going off of the last comment in-thread before the derail started, Marty's mention of toxic masculinity could be a good one to jump off of.

Guys in the thread.  I would really be interested to know more about what it's like to experience the toxic side of cultural pressures related the masculinity - is there anything specific to your experiences with trying to empathise with people who have different backgrounds of your own that either supports or contradicts the starting premise of the thread?

Heh, that reminds me—yesterday, I tweeted this:
nearly_takuan wrote:Bejeweled was on Origin for free so I downloaded it. I might be thought less a man, but not less a gamer/geek. #MalePrivilege ...?

And, again, my research skills (or lack thereof) fail me, but I have a strong memory of reading some book or other in middle school wherein the protagonist refers to another character as "Betty the Goth" until the protagonist (I don't even remember if it was male or female) slips up and says it in front of her, and Betty (I think it was Betty?) gets to soapbox to the reader that "Goth is not who I am".

Our pattern-finding brains love to sort things. Even people. Even ourselves. It's a double-edged sword: having a label for yourself can confer a fantastic sense of belonging, but it can also be stifling. Maybe even because of how good it feels to be part of a named group. Like, we don't want to risk leaving such a group (judgments and evaluations on what makes you part of a group can be internal as well as external).

Personally, I'm more attached to some labels than others. I don't especially value being called a nerd/geek, but masculinity is definitely part of my identity. (I don't know why, any more than I know why I don't view questions about my orientation as a threat to that masculinity.)
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Post by nonA on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:36 pm

...I wonder if a topic where the very thesis is "why do men suck at empathy?" can have that much positivity come from it.

You can go to a broader "why do people suck at empathy?" (as I noted earlier, it's interesting how the usual traits of archetypal Unattractive Woman have more to do with things likely to happen to the speaker than they do with traits that have actually caused guys to take offense at being approached), but that way only leads to deep cynicism.

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Post by reboundstudent on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:45 pm

nonA wrote: You can go to a broader "why do people suck at empathy?" (as I noted earlier, it's interesting how the usual traits of archetypal Unattractive Woman have more to do with things likely to happen to the speaker than they do with traits that have actually caused guys to take offense at being approached), but that way only leads to deep cynicism.

How is that empathy as opposed to just sharing a particular slice of experience? I have had guys take offense at being approached while being fat and older. Maybe guys also take offense at being approached by black or trans women, but until I myself have that experience I don't feel I have a right to comment on it. In fact, it'd be kind of awful for me to assume that guys would take offense at being approach by X group when I am not X, because what does that say about my opinions of X group?

Now, granted, I can't speak for everyone who even belongs to "my" group-maybe there are larger women who haven't experienced disgust when she approaches guys. But I at least have membership to that group, and have also had an experience as a member of that group, so it is logical to say "Members of my group have had this experience", even if I'm only referring to myself.
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Post by nearly_takuan on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:53 pm

And to more directly respond to Bunny's actual question...

My apartment was recently visited by two good friends, recently married to each other (both bisexual, but one's a man and one's a woman). After some time, and after both had consumed a certain quantity of alcohol, they had an argument that escalated until they volunteered to leave (going home via public transportation).

I suspected there was a lot going on that was unsaid, but the specific fight they were having was over the fact that Alice still felt kind of bitter about how her relationship with Bob had ended and the fact that Bob was happily married, whereas Charlie wanted her to focus on the fact that Alice is now happily married to Charlie, and never mind Bob.

I generally think I'm closer to Alice, as a friend. We have more in common and more to talk about, generally. But, in this case, I felt my sympathies aligning with Charlie. (I said nothing, either way—they're both friends, and their marriage is their thing to figure out.) Maybe part of it is that Charlie is male. I don't know. But I'm pretty sure a more significant piece of it is that, for people like me and Charlie, having even one person love you even one time seems like a wonderful thing, so even with the cognitive understanding of the very legitimate issues Alice is still hung up about (that's its own essay, and one I'm going to avoid describing for the sake of preserving some anonymity for them) we don't connect to her experience.


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Post by Dan_Brodribb on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:57 pm

nonA wrote:...I wonder if a topic where the very thesis is "why do men suck at empathy?" can have that much positivity come from it.


Regardless of the way the OP phrased it, the thread seems to be going in a different direction. I agree that there were parts of the OP that I would have phrased differently, but in general, the consensus seems to be discussing empathy and gender is thread-worthy, that discussion of street harassment can go to another thread, and that we are going to be able to do that without ganging up on one gender or another.

Right now, to me, it feels as though the only person hanging on to the "men suck" meme seems to be you.

<MOD>If you want to get your own thread going on the topic, that's your prerogative, but I'd advise you to tread carefully and read the forum guidelines.</MOD>


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Post by The Wisp on Thu Oct 02, 2014 5:58 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:So I'm curious. What does empathy mean to you?

- Is it the ability to cognitively put oneself in another's shoes?
- Is it the ability to pick up on another person's feelings?
- Is it about being able to see how our behavior affects others and adapt it? (People don't like it when I catcall, so I should stop catcalling)

I think empathy comes down to being able to pick up on another person's feelings and have a general idea of the experiential quality of those emotions. Seeing how one's behavior effects others can be understood in a purely mechanical sense (i.e. do x, get reaction y). I wouldn't call that empathy. It's not merely putting yourself in another's shoes because the person may not have the same subjective reaction to a set of experiences as you do.

UristMcBunny wrote:Guys in the thread.  I would really be interested to know more about what it's like to experience the toxic side of cultural pressures related the masculinity - is there anything specific to your experiences with trying to empathise with people who have different backgrounds of your own that either supports or contradicts the starting premise of the thread.


Growing up I don't think I had much empathy for women mostly because I knew very little about women and their experiences. All my friends growing up were boys, I don't have any sisters, my extended family wasn't close enough for me to have regular contact with female cousins, and all the protagonists in the fiction I consumed were men or boys. It's hard to empathize with an alien group. Additionally, because of cultural pressures, it didn't even occur to me to explore my more feminine traits until I was in my late-teens, further alienating me from women. I think I have much more empathy for women now, though it is a work in progress.

I don't know if this is a masculine thing or an individual thing or a human thing, but I also definitely struggle with a transactional model of empathy. What I mean is that I have this gut reaction of "I'll give you empathy only if you give me empathy first". I think this is rational at the individual level, otherwise you are probably going to be used by others (something I have a lot of experience with). However, when we have conversations about group-level dynamics, this gut feeling persists even though it seems to be less reasonable.

Relatedly (and again, I don't know if this is masculine, individual, or human), I often find it really hard not to take generalizations about a group I belong to personally, even if I'm implicitly not being discussed there. I guess I feel excluded, but this also speaks to the difficulty with empathy because it takes deliberate effort to empathize with the reasons a member of another group would find such a generalization important and as describing something real.
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Post by fakely mctest on Thu Oct 02, 2014 6:14 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:
So I'm curious. What does empathy mean to you?

- Is it the ability to cognitively put oneself in another's shoes?
- Is it the ability to pick up on another person's feelings?
- Is it about being able to see how our behavior affects others and adapt it? (People don't like it when I catcall, so I should stop catcalling)

I would say it's definitely the first and third, working in concert but then I like dividing the baby that way /wisdom of Solomon  Cool

I'm not really up on the latest child psychology thinking, but the third point seems the most basic to respectful human interactions: you pay attention to the other person's words (easier) and nonverbal cues (more difficult) and adapt.  But the Platonic form of empathy is to understand and feel something of what the other person understands and feels.  That way empathy transforms from the reactive to the proactive.

I'm curious about how you see the second point as being dissimilar to things going on in the third.  It seems to me that, if you're picking up on nonverbal cues that comprise a person's reaction, then you're also picking up on their feelings, no?

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Post by nearly_takuan on Thu Oct 02, 2014 6:33 pm

It's "think about and imagine what this person is going through and why" versus "notice what this person is feeling (and maybe feel the same way)". I think Wisp got it when he said
TheWisp wrote:the person may not have the same subjective reaction to a set of experiences as you do.

TheWisp is also correct in saying that the third thing can technically be accomplished via manipulations that have nothing to do with either of the first two.

I guess since I cross-classed maths and computer science, I see it this way:

Cognitively putting yourself in someone else's shoes is like Mathematics. By building from axioms about people in general, and information an individual gives you about themselves (through statements as well as behavior—the First Axiom is that most people love talking about themselves), you can form theorems, corollaries, and lemmas that explain a person's beliefs and attitudes. Even if you don't agree, you can begin to see why they think the way they do, and often enhance your own self-understanding through analysis of why you might not agree. Still, it's all theoretical until you do something with it.

Picking up on another person's feelings is psychic weirdness that I lack the intelligence to sufficiently explain.

Adapting your behavior is Engineering. It's possible to do it fairly effectively without really studying past the basics. A skilled or trained person might do it better, but it's a fairly accessible practice mainly because it "works" as long as it passes a good-enough threshold. Some people get by just copying an existing blueprint, such as a religious code of ethics. Others prefer to play it by ear, and end up with something that might look kind of questionable but probably does its job often enough.
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Post by Enail on Thu Oct 02, 2014 6:38 pm

nearly_takuan wrote:
reboot wrote:
nearly_takuan wrote:Hm. Would anyone care to provide a starting point for that kind of discussion, then? When the title asks why men have a problem with empathy and the OP focuses on the harassment of women it's no wonder the discussion continued to go down those lines.

The OP used street harassment as an example but the real question was why is it that men appear to be less empathetic, as per the topic title. It is better not to spin off on the example and focus on the main question. Especially when it starts to derail into only discussing the example.

I guess I'm mostly thinking about this one:
reboot wrote:<mod hat>
Can we please either take the topic of street harassment to another thread or drop it entirely. I can split out those comments if needed. It is distracting from the topic of empathy, which is more than understanding across gender. It includes age, race, class, age, sexuality, culture, within gender, etc.
</mod hat>

Okay, I've got a non-gender based example. I've recently switched from a group which has a loud voice in our culture to one that doesn't (not disabled to disabled), which is quite an eye-opening experience, and it has really been confirming for me some of what's being said here about being exposed to another POV making a difference in empathetic ability.

I've never been disabled before. I've not known many people with long-term disabilities. I've rarely seen stories from the perspective of a person with a disability, and I'm sure many of those I have, have been created by people without that disability. And it turns out there's a whole world of details that I was missing. Like holy shit, there are so many things I didn't know to think about, that I'd never had reason to notice as something that might need empathy, things I didn't have the experience to imagine enough to be able to make a genuine stab at perspective-jumping - and now I'm suddenly like "OMG, everyone else, why aren't you noticing all this stuff? It's so obvious!"   ...but of course, it isn't, b/c you don't notice it if you don't have a reason to or a guide pointing things out all over the place, it's just not part of your world!

If you don't spend time being helped to imagine being in someone else's brain, however well you may mean, it's a real struggle to figure out what genuine empathy would even involve, let alone to make a good go at it! I tend to have a very story-based mind, so maybe some of this is particular to me, but I think it's probably true for most people in some ways; stories are one of the most important ways we have for empathy. And I think that's one reason why having more diverse stories matters so much to people who are in some way a minority or unprivileged group - it's one of the best chances we all have to live in a world where we are, at least a little bit, understood.
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Post by kleenestar on Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:11 pm

nonA wrote:
Just keep the following in mind and you'll do just fine;

  • When a man hears a story, he's more likely to empathize with the men involved.
  • When a woman hears a story, she's more likely to empathize with the women involved.
  • Ergo, men are deficient in empathy.


Actually, no, the research says that when a man hears a story he's more likely to empathize only with the men involved, while women are more likely to empathize with both the men and the women. The ability to adopt the perspective of someone of the opposite gender is in fact precisely one of the ways in which women are more empathic than men. So, your first premise is correct but your second is incorrect. Perhaps the next time you attempt to be facetious you could be a bit more factually accurate.

Reboot, when I get the bibliography together I'll happily share it here.


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Post by kleenestar on Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:16 pm

Dan_Brodribb wrote:
So I'm curious. What does empathy mean to you?

- Is it the ability to cognitively put oneself in another's shoes?
- Is it the ability to pick up on another person's feelings?
- Is it about being able to see how our behavior affects others and adapt it? (People don't like it when I catcall, so I should stop catcalling)

Oh, this is good, I missed this. The bulk of the research I've read focuses on 1 and 2 rather than 3. Uh, yay academia?
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Post by C-Bass on Thu Oct 02, 2014 7:22 pm

Clarification, I didn't intend to use street harassment to specifically direct the thread in that direction; I used it because that situation specifically was on my mind when I was pondering this question.
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Post by Conreezy on Thu Oct 02, 2014 11:25 pm

UristMcBunny wrote:
Guys in the thread.  I would really be interested to know more about what it's like to experience the toxic side of cultural pressures related the masculinity - is there anything specific to your experiences with trying to empathise with people who have different backgrounds of your own that either supports or contradicts the starting premise of the thread?


This is going to be difficult to put, but here goes:

I struggle internally with avoiding the classically manly approach of downplaying my wife's emotions. I don't want to be the guy who just waves everything away as nothing, but I am the type of person who doesn't freak out over much. 5 years as a paramedic put a lot into perspective (and burned some compassion out, I'll admit). My wife is the opposite of me in a lot of ways--she doesn't deal with stress well and has clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety issues, which can turn lots of molehills into mountains. I can come off as callous because I'll ignore or underplay something that she thinks is a huge deal. After a few years of this, I've tried really hard to put myself in her shoes, but it can be exhausting having to sort the "real" issues from the BS, especially when so much of it can be personally damaging. I don't like to think of it that way, but there's not enough patience in me to respond to everything she brings up. I'm sure everyone has only so much emotional space to give to someone else, and there's where I find my trouble: when can I stop being empathetic without becoming "that guy?" My view is that if someone is offering their empathy, I shouldn't overstay the welcome. How much of her own emotional work can I expect her to handle alone?

Walking the line between being empathetic (and learning from the times when I'm not) and not being steamrolled is a tough act to pull off for me.
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Post by Enail on Thu Oct 02, 2014 11:56 pm

Conreezy wrote:
This is going to be difficult to put, but here goes:

I struggle internally with avoiding the classically manly approach of downplaying my wife's emotions.  I don't want to be the guy who just waves everything away as nothing, but I am the type of person who doesn't freak out over much.  5 years as a paramedic put a lot into perspective (and burned some compassion out, I'll admit).  My wife is the opposite of me in a lot of ways--she doesn't deal with stress well and has clinically diagnosed depression and anxiety issues, which can turn lots of molehills into mountains.  I can come off as callous because I'll ignore or underplay something that she thinks is a huge deal.  After a few years of this, I've tried really hard to put myself in her shoes, but it can be exhausting having to sort the "real" issues from the BS, especially when so much of it can be personally damaging.  I don't like to think of it that way, but there's not enough patience in me to respond to everything she brings up. I'm sure everyone has only so much emotional space to give to someone else, and there's where I find my trouble: when can I stop being empathetic without becoming "that guy?"  My view is that if someone is offering their empathy, I shouldn't overstay the welcome.  How much of her own emotional work can I expect her to handle alone?

Walking the line between being empathetic (and learning from the times when I'm not) and not being steamrolled is a tough act to pull off for me.  

I think your situation specifically could well be a thread of its own, if you want to discuss it (and my relationship has some similarities, so I'd probably have some thoughts there) so I'm just going to keep it to the thread topic here. It sounds like you feel like empathy and getting to have boundaries are in direct opposition. And, I think often they are presented that way in society at large, and it is a tricky balance for anyone to navigate...but for some reason, this isn't something I recall ever hearing women express, only men. Not sure what to make of that, just interesting.
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Post by Guest on Fri Oct 03, 2014 1:33 am

UristMcBunny wrote:Guys in the thread.  I would really be interested to know more about what it's like to experience the toxic side of cultural pressures related the masculinity - is there anything specific to your experiences with trying to empathise with people who have different backgrounds of your own that either supports or contradicts the starting premise of the thread?

I'll bite.

I internalised a lot of the messages telling me to not express my emotions when high school started. Specifically sadness or anything 'negative' I guess. I was a crybaby in primary school, but I knew I would be torn to shreds by everyone else if I was prone to blubbering. So, I stopped. To the point that the first time I cried after starting high school (10 years ago?) was last year. And I felt bad for doing so. I essentially emotionally neutered myself.

Relating this to the premise of the thread, I've had a rough time empathising with anyone since high school started. Men, women, it doesn't make all that much of a difference - I struggle with empathy. I often have to 'fake' the emotional side of it, but I certainly understand the problems to do with catcalling and other things that may not happen to me, but certainly negatively affect women (including women I know - my sister get's it frustratingly often) and others.

I can't say this is indicative of all men, but that pressure to be an emotional zombie certainly did a number on me. I haven't exactly gotten better. I'm actually kind of worse because sometimes I'll just get emotional at the drop of a hat for seconds then I'm right back to dullness. It's strange, but I'm growing accustomed to it.

Small note: Thanks to a number of factors (including what I've just talked about), I suspect I also fall on the autism spectrum so I might not be the right kind of person to really answer this accurately. I have little interest in getting diagnosed, so take this with a grain of salt - it could all be in my head.

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Post by kath on Fri Oct 03, 2014 1:39 am

Dan_Brodribb wrote:Reading this thread, it strikes me that I'm not sure what people mean when they use the word 'empathy'

So I'm curious. What does empathy mean to you?

- Is it the ability to cognitively put oneself in another's shoes?
- Is it the ability to pick up on another person's feelings?
- Is it about being able to see how our behavior affects others and adapt it? (People don't like it when I catcall, so I should stop catcalling)

Hmm. I think when I use it, I sort of think of it as perspective-taking. So 1, but explicitly including emotional content. I think the social good of having an empathetic population is that people do 3, and you need to be able to do 2 to do 3. But I think picking up on feelings and paying attention to expressions of them well and in many diverse situations from many diverse people is different than being able to take on a perspective when it's presented in a way you take to or a way you understand. But I do think these three things are connected. I'm sort of imagining that there might be someone who can empathize with a person in a story, but doesn't pay attention to the stories people in real life tell them / doesn't use that empathizing skill with people they are actually interacting with. And I also think there are certainly degrees to which each of our ability to empathize with others is impacted by our own biases.

To differentiate that from sympathy, sympathy would be like "I can understand that you are upset, and I care about that / want you to feel better" but empathy is the ability to listen to what someone says and imagine that you were in that situation and you had those emotions. Pretty much exactly like reading a book or watching a movie and feeling the emotions or perspective of the person in the story, and applied to real life when people tell you stories about their experiences.

nearly_takuan wrote:
I suspected there was a lot going on that was unsaid, but the specific fight they were having was over the fact that Alice still felt kind of bitter about how her relationship with Bob had ended and the fact that Bob was happily married, whereas Charlie wanted her to focus on the fact that Alice is now happily married to Charlie, and never mind Bob.

I generally think I'm closer to Alice, as a friend. We have more in common and more to talk about, generally. But, in this case, I felt my sympathies aligning with Charlie.

Hmm, this is interesting. Because one could empathize with both Alice and Charlie - thinking "Oh yeah, I've felt bitter because someone hurt me and wished they would never be happy" and also "I've been upset when someone else was hung up on something even though they say they're happy now" - you can "feel" along with both of them. I think in this case, I feel more aligned to Charlie too (to contribute a data point).

And yay Enail, totally agreed on the "empathy =/= no boundaries" and sort of being able to adopt someone else's feelings doesn't mean thinking their perspective is best, thinking their behavior is ideal or even acceptable.

Also, is it possible to empathize with a perspective you just have actually never felt? What about emotions you experience through media? I vividly remember how I felt when Beth died in Little Women, or after the opening sequence of Up, even though I've never experienced having someone that close to me die. Can I effectively "take the perspective" of someone who has had that happen (obviously I can't say "I totally understand the depths of your pain" but I can try to imagine losing someone very close to me and remember similar feelings I have had and call those up, to "share" those emotions / understand their perspective better, if not perfectly). But I certainly felt some pretty intense emotions while reading / watching those pieces of media.

This may be off topic so if so, sorry, but I'm quite curious as to like, what the experience of empathizing with others is like for people. We might use the fiction example. There are some pieces of fiction where I kind of "feel along" as I might sing along with a song, or imagine the action of a story in my head as images. There are other pieces of fiction where I really, really don't, which really hampers my enjoyment of the piece. I have also had the experience of "feeling along" so much that, if the story abruptly changed in emotional intensity, I just couldn't actually continue with it because I was still totally in that devastation.
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Post by nolorn on Fri Oct 03, 2014 4:30 am

I'd say yes we do

I have a problem taking seriosly women who say they have just as hard a time in dating as men. The moment any woman asserts this it is difficult to quiet the cynic in my mind:
"oh I feel bad for you- too bad your super-handsome/rich/popular boy doesn't appreciate you're mediocre ass"
"or you should try more average men you stuck up princess I'm sorry that fat and/or bald men disgust you, you stuck up hypocrite"
"or I'm sorry your other numberous relationships turned out bad and you have to face the prospect of being single for a whole week!! quelle horreur!"

so yeah- these are some of the common refrains I have when women talk about their dating difficulties. I have a hard time empathizing with their issues in dating

I don't know how I will go about fixing it.

Undoubtedly there is a genetic component, that no amount of social engineering can totally remove- psychiatrists have noted that men have much higher incidence of psycopathy and women have a higer incidence of hystrionics.

As for the previous comment about boys being socialized to be rough and tumble- there is the story of David Reimer to consider- his male genitals were destroyed in a botched childhood circumscision and he was forced to be raised female, girl clothes and girl toys etc.- immediately his parents and psychiatrist noticed how aggresive he was, especially compared to other girls and hated doing girly things.

Unfortunately he commited suicide, but it goes to show that lack of empathy and aggresiveness in men in more than just a product of socialization.

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