empathy is not a zero-sum game

I think part of the difficulty people have in letting go of the urge to punish is the notion that somehow any amount of genuine empathy we extend towards someone who has brought about harm is given at the expense of a recipient of that harm.

And going further: that the more unleashed our hatred of the perpetrator, the greater the love we must really have for the victim. You can see this clearly in the phenomenon of people who cheer at public executions.

I honestly feel the reverse of this to be the case. It seems unarguable to me that the deeper and more fearlessly we can go in trying to understand how terrible actions come to be committed, the deeper our empathy for the direct recipients of those actions too.

A documentary I saw yesterday (in gratitude to Newcomb for introducing me to it) highlights this idea in an almost unbearably moving way. It’s close to unwatchable in the horror and pain that is its subject, but for any who can I highly recommend it. (Just don’t plan on being able to focus on anything else for the remainder of the day…) It’s in several parts, the whole thing being about 45 minutes.)

More in other posts.

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