If we had to choose an equation for empathy, what would it be? Perhaps it would be The Golden Rule, which is to do unto others as we would have others do unto us, right?
A Lack of Empathy:
One of the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria for narcissistic personality disorder is a lack of having the ability to experience true empathy for another being, human or otherwise. Therefore, narcissists are always looking out for #1 (i.e. them and theirs).
Is This Black & White?
However, this is not a black and white phenomenon. In other words, there is a huge gray area that encompasses a gradient, both for empathy and narcissism. If you think about it, there is a bit of both in all of us; however, there is a very wide scale, with very few of us falling on either end.
Survival vs. Humanity:
There is a gradient scale of selfishness in all of us, which is essential to our survival. However, there is also a gradient scale of altruism and humanity, because we are not all robots (or at least I hope we’re not). True altruism is doing good for someone other than ourselves, for no other reason, and with no ulterior motive, other than to just help another in need, even though there is nothing in it for us.
How Nurture Has Shaped Us:
Perhaps the world that has shaped us, the world that we have grown in and have grown to know, has actually been shifting and sliding our gradients ever since our youth. When society makes it so incredibly difficult for us to be able to provide for ourselves and our own with the bare essential minimum to survive, including safe shelter, food, heat, clean water, etc. then how can we possibly have anything left over for anyone else?
This has been generations / centuries in the making; therefore, it has been imprinted within our cells…perhaps even into our DNA. The message that we must survive by any means necessary, as we know, is a basic human instinct; however, our society has made it so that in order to survive, we need money.
Greed and Its Impact on The Golden Rule:
If you have money, you can pay for a safe haven and enough food and protection to not constantly be forced to live in a state of stress / fight-or-flight. However, the more money you have, the cleaner and safer your shelter can be, and the purer and less adulterated your food / water will be, and the warmer you can stay in the winter / colder in the summer, and the easier your life can be with having the luxury to pay others to help you.
Therefore, money has become the single most powerful tool working against empathy and our ability to do what, in the deepest corners of our hearts, we all want to do for others, which is to help those in need.
As soon as our access to money became controlled by an outside source other than ourselves, that very same outside source began very literally sliding the gray scale gradients for each and every one of us.
Is it even a question whether or not we all want to live by The Golden Rule? I truly believe that in the deepest recesses of our soul we all wish that we could do more to help others; however, when the people holding the largest power, hoarding the most of this rare commodity they call “money” live by the exact opposite of The Golden Rule, then what chance does anyone else have? Does it not affect the way we start feeling about this commodity, as well? We think to ourselves, “Well, if they still need to collect and hoard, how can we survive if we don’t do the same?”
Some Thoughts to You Leave With:
I know a lot of you might be thinking, how does The Golden Rule have anything to do with having empathy or being altruistic? You might say, well I treat everyone the same way I would want to be treated…but do you really? If someone was cold and shirtless, would you literally take the shirt off of your back to keep them warm? Some of us truly would, while others might go buy a few shirts and jackets for this person. This depends on where we fall on that empathy and humanity gradient. However, perhaps others would just walk by and not say anything, or even laugh at them for not having a shirt on their back.
As much as we all want to be that better person, how many of us actually live our lives this way? How many of us truly act this way? How many of us want to act this way, but make an excuse in our heads like, “Well, I don’t have anything to give him”? Could we all do more? Likely yes; however, could we all be a little bit kinder to one another merely because we have the ability to imagine what it would truly be like in the shoes of another?