Saturday, August 23, 2008

TED video classroom success

I showed this video by Daniel Goleman on sympathy to my ethics class Friday, and it was a smashing success. People who did not talk before volunteered comments early in the discussion. Links were drawn to the textbook. People demonstrated quick comprehension of Goleman's underlying themes and thesis. Way cool.



I also showed this, since we were talking about sympathy.

4 comments:

Evelyn Brister said...

What reading do you assign alongside this? Hume?

Evelyn Brister said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julian E said...

I think that the dating bit about seeing how long it takes for the date to ask a question involving "you" could be a false indicator -- it could be an indication of the date's shyness and unwillingness to talk about himself, not some extraordinary interest in you.

I guess I have a problem with a lot of thinking on this issue.

It seems that there are two components to what's going on here. There's the feeling someone else's suffering (empathy), and then there's actually helping the other (benevolence). The helping part is great, I think. Empathy for the suffering, though, strikes me as a bad thing. It may have good consequences (the actually helping people part), but in and of itself it only multiplies the pain and grief in the world.

How could it possibly be a good thing that, if I stub my toe, not only does it hurt me, but it hurts me and it hurts you?

Some might say that it would be cold and inhuman to wish for a world in which we could all be perfectly content even if we saw someone else in agony -- but I think that's half just concern that benevolence would be impossible without empathy, and half irrational Kassian disgust at people being happy when they ought to be more miserable.

Maybe I'm just a jerk, though.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

That's a very good point, Julian, but I think a more detailed understanding of what is going on in sympathy might show it to be misplaced.

Sympathy, despite its etymology, is not simply sharing an emotion with someone else. It is a complicated emotional response to understanding someone else's emotional state. Noel Carroll, as a part of his theory of how we relate to characters in fiction, suggests that the key ingredient is a pro-attitude to the person we are relating to. There are mirror reflexes at work--part of your brain and even the rest of your body is echoing what the other person is doing. But the primary response to this is not an echo of the feeling, but a meta-feeling that what the other person is going through is good or bad.