COMPASSION OVER EMPATHY
Bloom’s argument against empathy upsets me. In some ways I understand this perspective – empathy is exhausting. Taking on someone else’s pain is not an ideal situation for anyone, and it certainly slows down the design process. But sometimes I think it is necessary to take on the pain of others, especially in a place of privilege. It’s easy to become numb – or to use things to numb you, like food or alcohol or a relationship. We need some amount of pain in our lives, and I feel that some people experience more pain than others because of their race, sex, religion – virtually any non-dominant circumstance.
Bloom believes that “we are much better off if we give up on empathy and become rational deliberators.” I don’t believe in rationality – I do believe in sustainability. Being “rational” is often associated with shutting out emotions that I believe are critical to human-centered design solutions. Rationality is rooted in a cold, passive approach to the world of creativity. Yes, design solutions should be feasible, but they should also be colorful. The world rational feels like the opposite to me.
Sustainability, on the other hand, is a more valid response to this argument. When constantly placing ourselves in others’ situations, we can easily become exhausted and burn out. Dealing with the burden of others’ lives (and not just our own) can be tricky to navigate. I’m reminded of one of my good family friends, whose love and care for her two daughters often causes her immense pain. I think the question is not whether or not to empathize – it’s how much to empathize. This is addressed briefly in the interview, but I feel it’s important to touch on here.
I see Bloom’s point on valuing compassion over empathy, but I’m not fully sold. I think feeling pain for others is part of the process – and an important one at that.
︎ THE CASE AGAINST EMPATHY