web analytics

Empathy is not Action

“These days empathy has become a shortcut. It has become a way to experience delicious moral emotions without confronting the weaknesses in our nature that prevent us from actually acting upon them. It has become a way to experience the illusion of moral progress without having to do the nasty work of making moral judgments. In a culture that is inarticulate about moral categories and touchy about giving offense, teaching empathy is a safe way for schools and other institutions to seem virtuous without risking controversy or hurting anybody’s feelings.”

— David Brooks, The Limits of Empathy, New York Times

Read the rest to hear Brooks’ idea on the importance of living by a code. Not that I advocate living by a code: I lived by my code years ago, & died by it. I stood up to a workplace bully. I released a witness statement about a bully *in management* who’d unfairly sacked a colleague, then lied repeatedly to avoid paying her 8 weeks of work, which she was due.

He was exonerated, she was labelled a liar, & they couldn’t even get my name right in the final report. So, I could pretend I achieved, if not a result, then at least the satisfaction of living up to my beliefs. But that would be a lie. I felt kinda humiliated. I feel humiliated every time I look back on it. Maybe if I’d shut up & moved on, I **wouldn’t** look back on it. Maybe I would’ve forgotten it by now. But I’m still angry. And if I found that bully’s name in the paper, followed by the phrase ‘brutally gunned down’, I’d snigger. Yes, snigger! That’s my code: an overinflated sense of moral outrage about the treatment of the weak by the even-weaker, the abusers of power & the morally hypocritical.

But you know what? If I was witness to bullying again, I’d still call it out. That’s what having a moral code does to you.

Makes you a willing idiot for your beliefs.