The reason empathy has always intrigued me is that I believe I experience it more than most. I have always been extra sensitive to other peoples' emotions. It is my gift and it is my curse (just like Spider-Man). I have put much thought about what empathy is and how it relates to human interaction-both ancient and modern. I began to write this to try to express my frustration stemming from my inability to figure out the point of the emotion, but I ended up getting a good idea of my own beliefs on the subject.
According to this website, empathy is what makes humans capable of effectively interacting with one another. It helps us work together to build a better society for everyone, an emotion that fosters the incentive to prompt us to protect and help out our neighbors. It's a little nudge persuading humans to forget themselves, at least for a moment, and concentrate on assisting those around us. Empathy could possibly be the driving force behind the creation and maintenance of civilizations. If people only looked out for themselves, it would just be in their best interest to steal resources whenever possible. This problem certainly exists, but most people at least think twice before committing an immoral act on another.
Today, it is so easy to lose the feeling of empathy because of society's information transfer system. How often do we hear a sad song on the radio, read a depressing thread on Team Liquid, or see a multitude of horrific images on cable news? With the age of television, radio, cell phones, and the internet, we can be bombarded with as much information as we want. My concern with this trend is that it may be desensitizing us, not allowing us to utilize empathy to its fullest potential in everyday life-to help each other out.
The practical application of empathy must have been much simpler when the most common bad news people heard was about something that happened in a very close proximity to their location. When people were nomadic and a child member of their group was eaten by a grizzly bear, people would feel for the person. It was not just sad because someone died, but because people were mourning the loss. If another member had experienced a similar situation, they would have a good idea what the parents of the deceased baby were going through. It was right there in their face, not an image or a broadcast, not a transcript or a story.
Of course people still see and experience terrible situations today, but it is not the lack of this type of experience, but the overload of the situations that have not starred them directly in the face that could account for the fading power of empathy. The vast majority of all things you learn from our information transfer mediums have not occurred right in front of you. The more negative information we are exposed to from our technology systems, the higher the risk in losing our powerful sense of empathy we encounter.