Overrating Empathy

Empathy is overrated...

Yes, you are reading it correctly. I am saying that empathy, as a social skill, is overrated and to some extent, heavily misunderstood and over-demanded. Empathy, according to Wikipedia, is the capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person's frame of reference. It is (dun get me wrong) an important social skill in this era.

But it is precisely because it has become so important that I think it is beginning to be abused by people, especially people who tend to be more 'in touch' with their emotions. These people can either be emotionally unstable, or simply just emotionally immature. And here comes my gripe: these people use empathy as a weapon to blackmail whoever is helping them to come and meet their need for self-pity.

I may be a bit harsh here and I do not have a lot of data points to back my claim. And I want to be very careful with what I say here lest it comes back and haunt me. But in most instances that I go through, I realised that empathy is often construed as me saying certain things that will make the other person feel good. Looking at the definition, I wonder if that is the case. I wonder if it is really the case that when one puts himself into the shoes of another person, you necessarily need to say certain things or do certain things? Dun get me wrong again, in most situations, it does but I think in cases of abuse, it almost become a given and if you don't give it, you are not empathetic and you suck as a human being because you are unable to 'empathise.'

I have my own fair share of being the emotional punching bag for people who directed their emotional diarrhoea on me, only to expect and even demand me to be 'empathetic.' This makes me realised also that perhaps empathy is a little like grace. Grace, when given upon demand, is no longer grace and I suspect that empathy, when given upon demand, no longer remain as empathy. If this is true, this truly reveals the true color of people demanding empathy to be shown on them. Very often, this is accompanied by the same people saying that as a Christian (leader), one needs to show 'tender love and care,' But the logic does not stand, if I am to stand in your shoes, shouldn't 'I' have the freedom too to decide how "I' will react in your shoes?

My point here is not to undermine what empathy can do to help another suffering person. I admit that I am still learning how to empathise effectively and I think I am growing in this area, again based on my limited and perhaps incomplete data points. My point is more to target at people who uses empathy as a concept to guilt-trip and blackmail, and I experience a lot of these lately. I often wonder if these people are really looking for attention that they want.

Perhaps many instances of me being the bag for emotional vomits have made me adopting this view and even become skeptical of people who insist on empathy. But I may be proven wrong in this case and I do hope that I am proven wrong.

Till my incoherent thoughts become coherent.


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