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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Alain de Botton, FRSL (born 20 December 1969) is a Swiss-born British philosopher and author. His books discuss various contemporary subjects and themes, emphasizing philosophy’s relevance to everyday life. He published Essays in Love (1993), which went on to sell two million copies. Other bestsellers include How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997), Status Anxiety (2004) and The Architecture of Happiness (2006).
He co-founded The School of Life in 2008 and Living Architecture in 2009. In 2015, he was awarded “The Fellowship of Schopenhauer”, an annual writers’ award from the Melbourne Writers Festival, for this work.
I would like to start this blog with three quotes from De Botton. And then go on to build a case for Empathy.
- “What makes people good communicators is, in essence, an ability not to be fazed by the more problematic or offbeat aspects of their own characters. ….. They can speak clearly because they have managed to develop a priceless sense of their own acceptability.”
- “Good listeners are no less rare or important than good communicators. Here, too, an unusual degree of confidence is the key — a capacity not to be thrown off course by, or buckle under the weight of, information that may deeply challenge certain settled assumptions.”
- “My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways — and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.”
Empathy is defined as the capacity to place ourselves emotionally in another person’s position.
The three points quoted above are relevant to this capability.
It is a fact that a small minority among us is oriented to Empathy; and an even smaller minority practices it as a way of life.
The first hinderance that comes in the way is our poor view of our own selves. We claim and we feel and sometimes believe as well that we are perfectly ok and that we do everything right. This is a delusion (a false perception). Our social fabric is designed to attack our self-respect and dignity. Just look at our life track. As young children, we are constantly reminded by the parents and elders that we are no good at house, no good at school, no good at learning, no good at eating, no good at manners, no good at literally everything. We are projected to ourselves as ‘universally no good’. These attacks come in many different forms and ways, but they are vicious and continuous. As a result, we are unable to develop a healthy and respectable image of our selves. During adolescence, the attacks on dresses, our hairstyle, our mannerism, our directionless life in general continue. As adults, during our work life, our managers and bosses make sure that the last ounce of self-respect is extracted out of us. During all this time, we are perpetually subjected to condemnation by the maulvis who insist that we shall only fit in the hell.
Governments in countries like ours deliberately design processes to humiliate people at large in multiple ways. Humiliation comes from long queues outside banks to deposit utility bills, in finding jobs, for getting driving license, and in the form of shortages of essential commodities. Worst kind of humiliation is experienced at police stations and in the courts of law.
We also humiliate each other. A doctor would make you wait for two hours despite appointment; the tailor would not deliver on time, the grocery-seller will overcharge, the fruit-seller will sell rotten fruit mixed with good one, the plumber will do most temporary fixing, and the list goes on. When a vendor or shopkeeper cheats the customer, he is essentially telling him that he does not respect him at all.
After all this, what is left is a person who is insecure, emotionally immature, intellectually stunted and driven by the strong tendency to offend others before they can know his weaknesses. The same is displayed in the urge to speak first, speak more and speak so bad that the other person may die instantly.
Poor listening also emerges from the same set of circumstances. We have grown while hearing so much dirt about us that we fear when someone speaks. We are never relaxed during listening. We are rather on the edge. We are not concentrating on the spoken words; we are trying to look at unspoken emotions and hidden attacks. On the first such feeling, we start attacking back.
De Botton makes the case that good communicators must have been blessed with caregivers who knew how to love their charges without demanding that every last thing about them be agreeable and perfect.
No one is perfect and cannot be. Acceptance of one another as we are, with our defects and imperfections is crucial to Empathy. De Botton’s assertion that we just need to go easy with another, knowing that we are all these incredibly fragile beings is so beautiful that it should be boldly written and displayed at all public places.
Empathy starts from accepting and respecting ourselves. It is not equivalent to carrying a false sense of superiority or pride or snobbery. It is a healthy respect for us and a similar healthy respect for others. When we accept ourselves, we become secure; we feel confident to face the world around us even when it is hostile. We are willing to give space to others and to understand their perspective. We develop the capacity to place ourselves emotionally in another person’s position, and this is what Empathy is.
Question #1 is that after having suffered throughout our formative years, how can we develop Empathy?
Question #2 is that how can we continue to have Empathy while the attacks on our dignity continue unabated?
To be continued……