Empatic concern in a situation of distress is a double-edged feeling
A woman staggered into her surgeon's waiting room, blood seeping from every visible orifice. Instantly the doctor and her staff sprang into action to handle the emergency, rushing the woman into a treatment room to stanch her bleeding, calling an ambulance, and canceling all the appointments of other patients for the remainder of the day.
The patients who had been waiting to see their doctor understood that, of course, this woman's dire need trumped their own. All, that is, save one woman who was indignant because her appointment had been canceled. Outraged, she shouted at the receptionist, "I took the day off work! How dare you cancel me!"
The surgeon who tells me the story says such indifference to suffering and the needs of others has become more prevalent in her practice. It was even the topic of a meeting for all surgeons in her state.
The biblical parable of the Good Samaritan tells of a man who stopped to help a stranger who had been beaten and robbed and was lying in pain by the side of the road. Two others had seen the injured man and, fearing danger, had crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by.
Martin Luther King Jr. observed that those who failed to offer their aid asked themselves the question: "If I stop to help this man. what will happen to me?" But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man what will happen to him?"
Compassion builds on empathy, which in turn requires a focus on others. If self-absorbed, we simply do not notice other people; we can walk by utterly indifferent to their predicament. But once we notice them we can tune in, sense their feelings and needs, and act on our concern.
Empathic concern, which is what you want in your physician, boss, or spouse (not to mention yourself), has substrates in the neural architecture for parenting. In mammals, this circuitry compels attention and concern toward babies and the young, who can't survive without their parents.'? Watch where people's eyes go when someone brings an adorable baby into a room, and you see the mammalian brain center for caring leap into action.
Empathic concern first emerges early in infancy: when one baby hears another cry she, too, starts crying. This response is triggered by the amygdala, the brain's radar for danger (as well as a site for primal emotions both negative and positive). One neural theory holds that the amygdala drives bottom-up circuits in the brain of the baby who hears the crying to feel the same sadness and upset. Simultaneously top-down circuits release oxytocin, the chemical for caring, which stirs a rudimentary sense of concern and goodwill in the second baby.
Empathic concern, then, is a double-edged feeling. On the one hand there is implicit discomfort from the direct experience in one person of the distress of the other combined with the same concern a parent feels toward her child. But we also add to our caring instinct a social equation that weighs how much we value the other person's well-being.
Getting this bottom-up/top-down mix right has great implications. Those in whom the stirring of sympathetic feelings becomes too strong can suffer themselves—in the helping professions this can sometimes lead to emotional exhaustion and compassion fatigue. And those who protect themselves against sympathetic distress by deadening feeling can lose touch with empathy. The neural road to empathic concern takes top-down management of personal distress but without numbing us to the pain of others.
Yet, certainly, the wise learn many things from their enemies; for caution preserves all things. From a friend you could not learn this, but your foe immediately obliges you to learn it. For example, the states have learned from enemies, and not from friends, to build lofty walls, and to possess ships of war. And this lesson preserves children, house, and possessions.
The present theory then must be considered to be a suggested program or framework for future research and must stand ...
It’s saying no.
That’s your first hint that something’s alive. It says no. That’s how you know a baby is starting to turn into a person. They run around saying no all day, throwing their aliveness at everything to see what it’ll stick to. You can’t say no if you don’t have desires and opinions and wants of your own. You wouldn’t even want to.
No is the heart of thinking.