When you stop empathizing with humans in politics, it can lead to some very dangerous politics. People are a valuable addition to society, and they can contribute great things, especially when performing at their peak: fed, healthy, and housed.
There is an empathy gap in politics have a serious human and economic costs; how can you address it?
How Does an Empathy Gap Happen?
Empathy gaps are fairly common: passing by the homeless folks on the street, losing your mind when you see someone protesting a better life for all of us, or really anytime that you stop looking at people as a valuable addition to your life.
When you get tired at work, when you get cut off on the freeway, or just feel like people are utter crud in the world, it may mean that it’s time for you to try and reinvigorate the love of people inside you. Prevent compassion fatigue and try to imagine the realm of human experience other people could be having at any given moment. If you’ve always had food, it might be hard to imagine someone not being able to get it from a neighbor or friend.
Being unable to realize the problems people in other social classes face is a very common empathy gap in politics. It can be hard to realize that people literally can’t afford health insurance. It can be hard to connect with someone who has an experience you could not physically feel.
That leaves many Americans out of the spectrum of our politicians experiences. The average US senator and congressperson is white, male, upper class, raised upper-middle class, educated, and old. It can hard to empathize with young/poor people without access to education, healthcare, basic utilities, or food.
How can this affect Americans?
What Sort of Terrible Policies Come out of an Empathy Gap?
You might think that the capital value of a functional human in society could logically overcome a empathy gap where people don’t realize the issues they are causing in other’s lives. For example: progressive policies increase economic growth, letting people merge increases the speed of traffic, and just being empathetic is among the critical skills that can get you a job. If you don’t have empathy, faking it and acting like you do would benefit you, your friends, and society as a whole. There are some terrible results that can come from a lack of empathy.
Human cooperation has a high value. Many people working together can balance out the deficiencies of a few and fully utilize every person to their max capacity. Empathy gaps stop the practical value of long-term human utilization because they are often paired with small temporary boosts instead of long-term plans. Preventing long-term energy, health, and poverty solutions due to immediate gains or a sincere disbelief in the effects on another person’s living situation are all examples of this situation.
Empathy gaps are all over both sides of the aisle, and one of the biggest negatives is that an empathy gap that fails to see the value of all human life contributes to the rise of Social Darwinism (which is insane). People are good for society, and having them functional at peak output is good for society. That means feeding them, helping them succeed, and helping them be as healthy and fit as possible.
Climate change and major pollution causes a huge amount of child death. There would be an immediate cost in reducing pollution, but the value of human life saved would more than compensate for the cost — if not the moral cost of human life, then that person’s potential contribution to society.
But when you hear about children dying in an impoverished country, you rarely connect to them as a real-life loss, a 1,000 people die in India and it goes right over your emotions. But if three people die a block away, you may not even know them, and it affects the feels a lot. Location, faces, and its potential impact on your life all affect how much you care.
There’s the empathy gap: the immediate effects of environmental damage are causing a large amount of harm, but because it’s not in your face, you tend not to care, even if children still die from it.
There are a thousand examples like that. Sen-ID Labrador saying “no one ever died from a lack of health insurance”, although in 2002 18,000 people died from just that. Mitt Romney talking about welfare recipients without looking into who he was talking about or where his numbers came from.
These are examples where politicians can’t fathom the reality that many people live. Such people could never connect with someone who takes care of another adult and works full time or someone who pays for the bare minimum insurance because that’s what the can afford. It’s hard to connect with the life of people that you have no concept of understanding. But you can do it.
Can Someone Who Doesn’t Have Empathy Understand Fellow Humans?
It’s hard to feel empathy for the thousands of deaths, thousands of terrible tragedies that happen everyday around the world. You don’t have to feel for every one of those people, and no one could ever expect you to. But to understand that their life and existence is as valid as yours can help you avoid empathy gaps that might cause harm.
For example, when reaching to throw your plastic bottle into the garbage, thinking about the coastal people who live by littered coastlines could help you throw your bottle into the recycling bin. Think about your neighbors, the people around you, or if you are devoid of human love, think about the consequences.
You may not love your neighbor or any people, but you could recognize results. For example, if you’re a crazy rich steel baron, recognizing that income inequality limits economic growth could mean trying to fund anti-poverty campaigns that will help the economy (and your business) grow. Or that aiming towards a standard quality of human life on the planet would open up a larger market of consumers.
Empathy gaps are terrible, but when acted on for temporary gains, there are disastrous consequences. Caring about people is great. If you don’t care, at least recognizing the value of human life when moving forward at its maximum capacity can shape your actions to seem like you care.
Mary Grace is a freelance human based out the beautiful Boise, ID. She loves hiking, skiing, and human interactions. Comment down below or tweet her @marmygrace with any questions or suggestions. She’d love to hear from you.