McKenzie and I must be on the same wavelength, because empathy has been on both our minds, except she blogged about it first. She posted a really neat video here that explains why human beings even have empathy in the first place and how, like everything does, it has evolved over time. Whereas once upon a time people only empathized with those who shared their blood, people eventually came to empathize with others of the same religious backgrounds and nationalities. The video asks, Can we extend our empathy to the entire human race? And obviously, humankind has showed many signs of doing so in times of disaster and tragedy. Not all times, of course. It's easy to recall a few years ago when the genocide in Darfur was what many said everyone SHOULD have been paying attention to, yet our own country contributed very little to the aiding of the victims there. The recent Haitian earthquake, however, proved against American heartlessness, as some people even still have not forgotten about the victims there and continue to donate money and efforts to help rebuild the nation despite the fact that it is no longer existent in the media.
The reason this very subject has been on my mind for the past few days is because of a somewhat troubling article I came across. (Read it, and don't depend on me to summarize it all!) But basically what it says is that Generation Y is less empathetic than previous generations. In fact, Generation Y-ers "are 40% lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago." Isn't that kind of creepy? The article refers to us (me and probably you, too) as the "Me Generation." Because, though the video mentioned above says that we're not primarily soft-wired to be self-indulgent, but rather to want to belong, there is clearly a high level of self-indulgence and narcissism common of people born somewhere between the late '70s and early '00s. (Some discrepancy exists over when Gen Y birth dates actually begin and end, but it's around this time.) The article outlines how this is different from the general disposition of Baby Boomers.
I've come across plenty of articles in regard to recent college graduates going into the world with the belief that they actually deserve great jobs and great praise, despite having accomplished very little in the professional world. We as a whole expect others to accommodate our needs and are generally very high maintenance. And I agree-- I see a lot of this attitude from my fellow students who expect easy As and want to glide through school as easily as possible. And the danger of it for me is that I believe I'm above all of that kind of attitude, but then doesn't that belief alone make me susceptible to fitting that description of "us" pretty well, too? Would I then be more likely to go into the "real world" thinking I'm the "real deal" as opposed to my peers and therefore just expect to be handed some awesome job? I mean, kinda. I've got a lot to learn, and I know that there's a lot I don't know (at least I know that!), but when I listen to the occasionally idiotic conversations going on around me in class, it makes me cringe.
I'm starting to sound awful. I'm also starting to ramble.
Back to the point, though.
Clearly, this has a direct correlation with technology and ever-decreasing face-to-face communication. We are also known as Millennials, after all-- the word implies so much. When one has over a thousand Facebook friends, how can one really tell the difference between an acquaintance and an almost complete stranger? This is just one example of technology potentially inhibiting our abilities to maintain genuine personal relationships, but people become greatly desensitized when they're scanning through a news feed full of people they don't really care about.
On the other hand, without technology, as, again, the video mentions, we wouldn't have even known about the Haitian earthquake. Within one hour of the earthquake, the news was tweeted on Twitter. Through this and other media, word spread fast, and we were able to send help almost immediately.
But when a report shows that college students today are less likely to empathize with those less fortunate than they are, what does that say? It can't all be chalked up to the fact that we're young and haven't experienced hardships and tragedies that become inevitable the older we get, because these studies are comparing college students now to college students of the '70s.
Maybe if our parents hadn't all given us trophies in soccer despite the fact that some of us never scored a goal all season (ahem, that would be me in second grade), we'd be a little less full of ourselves. Really, though-- how often do you see Facebook statuses just begging you to pity that person or describing utterly mundane details of one's life?
Ultimately, as long as we're here, the world needs empathy. Without it, the people of the earth would have self-destructed by now. If we didn't care about people affected by earthquakes and tsunamis, terrorism and oil spills, the world would have undoubtedly shaken off its irritating human inhabitants by now. So I take what I said back: the world doesn't need empathy, we do. Any human being is crazy (and narcissistic) to believe that we puny humans could really destroy the earth. Yes, we should make our best efforts to take care of it, but the world won't end because of us. Only we can end because of us. To keep that from happening for as long as possible, it's important that, on a grander scale than everyday annoyances, we not think of ourselves as better than others, but as connected and relatable to others. Like the video says, we can forget about empathy in heaven, because there, there is no mortality or suffering, and therefore no need for empathy. Just ponies and trees.