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Window Seat: Empathy Deficit

14/02/2021 at 6:06 AM

The word ‘empathy’ first appeared, misspelled as enpathy, in a 1909 lecture by the Cornell psychologist Edward B Titchener, and in a translation credited to the Cambridge philosopher and psychologist James Ward the same year. Inspired by the German aesthetic term Einfühlung, meaning “feeling into”, Titchener compared empathy to an enlivening process whereby an art object evoked actual or incipient bodily movements and accompanying emotions in the viewer. Empathy goes beyond sympathy, which is broadly defined as understanding how someone else feels.

Empathy enables us to actually experience those feelings for ourselves. We feel the emotional pain of others as if it was our own. There is a Sanskrit word which comes quite close to it: samabedana (sama means same, and bedana means pain). There is another word in Sanskrit: sahanubhuti, which means- feeling the same togather (saha means togather, anubhuti means feeling). In English it translates to sympathy.

Modern scientific discoveries show that empathy is hard-wired and that we are primed for morality, hence the writer Jeremy Rifkin’s claim that these circuits are the source of humanity’s desire for “intimate participation and companionship”. This finds resonance with several Indian and other oriental seers’ claim of the basic goodness of human being[i] and also with Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith’s notion of a “moral sentiment”.

Empathy is vital for the running of a civilized society. Empathy is important for developing social relationships and being able to live with others. In fact empathy has often been termed as social glue- that binds the members of a society- even if they are not personally related or even know one another.

However, many feel that there is a downward trend in empathy levels, especially in young people. People are moving away from other people’s sorrows and sufferings- without feeling any sense of guilt or remorse. They are not coming forward to help or to ease the suffering the way it used to be seen, say a generation ago.

Why is this happening? There aren’t any clear answers to this question.  Some pundits ICT (Information Communication Technology) may be largely to blame. ICT may make communication easier and more frequent, however, it promotes only superficial connections rather than the deeper connections you can only get in person. Another reason could be the constant push to succeed. To be rich, at any cost. To acquire material possession- at any cost. And to be happy at any cost- as if happiness is a physical entity and one can buy it with loads of money. This misguided and fallacious notion of success and happiness is making us soulless morons.

Empathy is the bond on which human civilization sustains and thrives. Without empathy the bond slackens, and so does the growth and advancement of the civilization. Without empathy, we stop growing and gradually regress. Presently we are in a peculiar situation- call it an existential crisis. Our body and science are in twenty first century- poised for even further development. But our mind is regressing to the middle ages. A me-only existence will give rise to a hollow civilization.

Therefore, we need to practice empathy- at individual level, at family level, at community level and at societal level. Nature has endowed with empathy. We need to let the feeling flow and translate it into action.

Love 360 degree

Come Valentine Day, and there is an overdose of love all around. In fact, it is not confined in a day- it has extended to a week. Every day of the Valentine week- is some day or the other connected to love and romance. It begins with Rose Day. Propose Day, Chocolate Day, Teddy Day, Promise Day, Hug Day, Kiss Day follow. The week ends with Valentine Day. In the last ten-fifteen years or so Valentine Day celebration has increased across the country. Market has an interest in it- as it can commodify and monetize the festivity.  

Every action has its equal and opposite reaction. So did Valentine day celebration. Some thin-skinned and uber-sensitive people, who thought themselves to be the guardian of ‘Indian culture and morality’- whatever that means – opposed the Valentine day celebration with equal zest and some element of arm-twisting and lathi wielding. A section of such zealots wanted everybody to celebrate February 14 as Matri-Pitri Pujan (Parents Worship) day.

If Valentine Day celebrates romantic and passionate love, Matri-Pitri Pujan day celebrates filial love and the bond that exists between sons and daughters with their patents.

Thus- February 14 has emerged as a day celebrating different hues of love. Call it Love 360 degree.


Doctor : Your Liver is enlarged

Patient : Does that mean it has space for more whisky ?

(This is called “Positive Thinking”)

Lady to her dietician: – What l am worried about is my height and not my weight.

Doc: – How come???

Lady: – According to my weight, my height should be 7.8 feet… 

(Now this is called “Positive Attitude”)

A Man wrote to the bank. “My cheque was returned with remark ‘Insufficient funds’. I want to know whether it refers to mine or the Bank”.

(This is self confidence in its peak)

This one is classic!!

A cockroach’s last words to a man who wanted to kill it : “Go ahead and kill me, you coward. You’re just jealous because I can scare your wife and you cannot..!!!!” 

Always be positive even in difficult situations


I called my friend on his landline to wish him on his wedding anniversary today…

Their housemaid picked up. Asked her where the couple is ???

She said, “Woh bahar gayen hain. Unka Marriage Unnecessary hai !”

(Courtesy: Social Media)


About the Author:

Journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. Odia translation of an anthology of essays titled Mahatma Gandhi: Journalist and Editor, originally published in English is releasing by mid-January 2021.


This is the personal opinion of the author. The views expressed in this write up have nothing to do with the www.prameyanews.com

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