Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night and both of my arms were asleep. As the feeling slowly came back, I thought about how vulnerable I felt (as a person without the use of her arms). It led me to thoughts about those people who cause hurt, doing so when others are at their most vulnerable.
I wonder if I could have empathy for such a person.
How does a person hurt someone else, and then justify their actions to themselves or to others? Are they simply unable to feel empathy? Some have said* that when an attacker hurts other people, they are choosing to 'turn off' their empathy, as I would take off a raincoat, and go without.
I read an article recently, which was a study of aggressive activity done by men in bars. The article implied, to me, that the person doing the act of aggression is doing so because they think they can 'get away with it'. They believe that nobody will stop them.
I admit I've done some minor bad things.... I've crossed the street not obeying the traffic signals. What New Yorker hasn't? I've tossed a piece of garbage off a ledge (a boat, a cliff, a balcony of a 10th floor apartment). I've taken a piece of tasty looking food from the office 'fridge, without asking permission from the owner.
In all of those small cases, I know I'm doing something that's supposed to be wrong. However, I also know that at the time I'm doing those things, there doesn't seem to be any immediate way for me to be caught at it. As a result, I'm tempted. I think about it, I consider it. I could just do it, right? Nobody would see. It's just a piece of cake. Snatch!
I believe that just because I don't have second thoughts in all situations doesn't mean I lack empathy. It just means that I'm not good at bringing up 'second thoughts' in every situation.
I can't imagine what goes through someone's mind when they are hurting another person. Intentionally. Willfully. However I do think that I can empathize** with a person who is doing something wrong, just because they think they can get away with it. Perhaps they just don't get to those all-important second thoughts.
*My apologies if I'm oversimplifying Simon Baron-Cohen's writings with this reference. His book, and his writings are in reference not just to those who commit so called 'evil acts' but also to those who simply step outside of the acceptable social world we live in. He's touched on this topic in great detail - I suggest checking out his book if you are so inclined.
**Note that I'm saying 'empathize' here and not 'forgive'.
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