Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Of empathy, dogs and connectivity

When I decided to start this blog, it was because there were so many thoughts and ideas streaming through my mind and I was afraid I'd lose track of them.  After all, they were about things that seemed important to me.  No, not necessarily in a 'life changing' sense (although doesn't everything change life?) but in the sense that I enjoyed thinking about them and seeing where they might take me.

Mind you, these thoughts were as diverse as the items on a $15 'all you can eat' pig-out, I mean, buffet, at, well, I won't mention names here, but you know where I mean.

For instance, there were thoughts about my dog and whether I was able to empathize with her (but more of that later).  You see, I'd been working on the subject of empathy and reading up on it.  And, yes, that project has taken me to a number of places and people, some familiar and others not.

Along one of those trails, I came across this book by Jeremy Rifkin in which he has some rather interesting things to say about empathy.  He believes that, contrary to the dominant story we're given about how humans are inherently aggressive and 'numero uno-ers', we, Homo Empathicus, are actually wired for connectedness and a natural predisposition to go to the aid of our less fortunate bi-pedal-ers.

Not necessarily a revolutionary idea, you might say, but in today's context where global connectivity is on a scale like it's never been before, it gave me reason to pause.  Actually, to be honest, Rifkin did it for me by posing questions like 'Why are we connecting?' and 'What kind of connections do we make?  To what purpose?'
The speed at which technology, such as the iPod, is advancing our ability to connect (fast approaching the speed of thought if you ask me) to an ever-increasing range of people and places is exciting, breath-taking really.  But what are the real gains?

Are our conversations getting more meaningful, more enriching, more fulfilling? Or are we just getting better at filling the airwaves with noise?  Perhaps because the silence between connection is getting more and more unsettling?

And what about empathy, which is where I kind of was hoping to go with this post?  Are we getting better at being with another person, walking in their shoes, putting aside our frames of reference and stepping into theirs?  

I mean, as another thought bubble, how does technology help or hinder our ability and willingness to empathize?  Do we even care?  

Before I finish, I said I would tell you about my dog and my ability (or otherwise) to empathize with her.  This is an interesting one because although she's been clever enough to learn many words that I use, I, unfortunately, have not been as clever at learning hers.  Well, not as well as I'd like to, anyway.

So, lately, I've been experimenting with thought communication.  Actually, it's more 'feeling' communication.  I look at her and I think certain thoughts like "We've got the Force moving through us, so let's just work together so that you know you're always safe, whether I'm here or not and I know I can trust you not to wreck the apartment when I'm out".  

I blink a few times as I allow the feeling of power and goodwill and wellbeing and joy to flow through me.  I'm hoping that she's doing and feeling the same.  The next I see her, she's doing this:

followed by this
and finally
while my cat looks on disapprovingly, or unconvinced, would you say?  Or perhaps it's "You poor, sick thing..."

But, I suppose you're wondering where the empathy is in all this?  


I don't know.  I was too busy trying to get my agenda through...

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