Monday, July 29, 2013

The Money-Empathy link

A few months ago, a study came out indicating that the more money we have, the less likely we would be empathetic. For reference you can check out the study itself or a cool video summarizing the study.


After reading the study and some really long, long articles I found this set of questions that are supposed to tell me how much money gets in the way of my own empathy practice. You can take the quiz yourself by going to this New Yorker article and skipping to the last page.

They asked me to solve a series of ethical problems...

Some of the quiz questions were easy, such as 'would you ever steal from the office' (NO). However one of the questions I spent a long time thinking about:

"After waiting in line for ten minutes to buy a coffee and walking half a mile away, you realize (coffee shop) mistakenly gave you change for a $20 bill instead for the $10 you gave them. You don't walk back to return the money. Would you do this? "

I thought about how I would feel. Perhaps it was a hot day, and I was sweaty and tired. Perhaps I was almost at work and there was a meeting starting soon. Perhaps I could just go back the next time I went to that same place, and return it later. Perhaps perhaps perhaps! So I answered that one 'maybe'. Maybe I would go back.

According to the authors of the article, the quiz concluded that "I was compassionate, when it was convenient."

Okay well as much as I don't like the idea of a quiz telling me who I am, the answer made sense to me. All of the reasons I listed for not going back and returning the money were because it wasn't 'convenient'. If I had just walked out of the coffee shop and realized the error, I would have walked right back in and fixed the error. My choice to not go back immediately may mean that someone could get in trouble for missing money. Maybe this was the third time it had happened, and now he would get fired. (So yeah, now I was feeling guilty about this hypothetical situation.)

If I were to push myself to be compassionate when it's not convenient, I'm saying that other people are just as important as I am. By not going back, I'm saying that I'm more important than the folks working in that coffee shop.


When it's easy, I am getting much better at practicing empathy. It's easy to be empathetic when I can see how we all are the same; how any one of us is not more important than any other. I can sow those seeds by choosing the harder road in situations like these. Maybe the next time I wouldn't act out of convenience. I would act to do what was right - and return the money right away.


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