NPR

Does Empathy Have A Dark Side?

It's good to feel empathy, right? Not always, according to a forthcoming book. Humans are empathetic beings, and we sometimes harm others, not out of a failure of empathy, but because of it.
Source: Christina Chung for NPR

Empathy seems like a good quality in human beings. Pure and simple.

It allows us to consider the perspective of others — to put ourselves in their shoes and imagine their experiences. From that empathetic vantage point, only good things can come, right?

Not necessarily, according to author Fritz Breithaupt. "Sometimes we commit atrocities not out of a failure of empathy but rather as a direct consequence of successful, even overly successful, empathy," he writes in his forthcoming book The Dark Sides of Empathy.

Breithaupt, who directs the Experimental Humanities Lab at Indiana University, argues that empathy is a morally ambiguous capacity, one that can lead us astray if we don't understand its many sides.

"Empathy is a riddle," Breithaupt says. While it can enrich our lives, Breithaupt says our ability to identify with others' feelings can also fuel polarization, spark violence and motivate dysfunctional behavior in relationships, like helicopter parenting.

Breithaupt, who reviews the

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from NPR

NPR2 min readSociety
Thousands Of ISIS Fighters Must Be Tried Or Let Go, U.N. Rights Chief Says
Also, the family members of suspected fighters "should be repatriated, unless they are to be prosecuted for crimes" according to international standards, Michelle Bachelet said.
NPR4 min readPolitics
What Are Iran's Options In The Standoff With The U.S.?
Iran shot down a U.S. drone. The U.S. launched a cyberattack and put new sanctions on Iran. Here is a look at the deepening crisis from Iran's standpoint.
NPR4 min readPolitics
8 Political Questions Ahead Of The 1st Democratic Debates
Twenty candidates will take the stage over two nights in Miami this week. With front-runner Joe Biden under pressure, can another candidate, like Elizabeth Warren, make the most of the opportunity?