I am in the business of resolving disputes – a “peacemaker” – as many of my colleagues would say. I was reading an article online the other day, and suddenly it dawned on me that the lack of empathy may be the major reason for many disputes.
The article, entitled “Empathy deficit disorder – do you suffer from it”? by Amanda Robb, appears on Oprah.com. Initially, Ms. Robb explains how she was quite unempathetic when her roommate and “boon companion for three years” came in and announced she had just been fired. Looking back, those fifteen years, Ms. Robb realized how badly she had dealt with the situation. As explained to her by psychologist Douglas LaBier, Ph.D., director and founder of the Center For Adult Development in Washington, D.C.,
“. . . virtually everyone learns the basics of empathy in childhood (from our parents comforting us when we’re in distress),. . .
. . . empathy is “the ability or the willingness to experience the world from someone’s point of view.” (Id.).
Looking back, Ms. Robb realizes that she was not brought up to be empathetic. Her mother never displayed such a trait.
But, according to Dr. LaBier, Ms. Robb is not alone: “empathy deficit disorder (EDD) is rampant among Americans:” (Id.).
“. . .we unlearn whatever empathy skills we’ve picked up while coming of age in a culture that focuses on acquisition and status more than cooperation and values “moving on” over thoughtful reflection. . . . EDD is at the heart of modernity’s most common problems, macro (war) and micro (divorce).” (Id.).
Which got me thinking. . . are disputes being created because the disputants have EDD: they are unable or unwilling to view the situation from the other’s person’s shoes? Are these disputes then ballooning or mushrooming into serious matters, even becoming cases in court because the parties’ attorneys –in accordance with their oath to represent their clients zealously and with loyalty – do not apply much needed (or any) empathy to the situation? Would the application of more or (even any) empathy to any potentially volatile situation early and often pretermit the dispute? Perhaps. I suspect that a dose of empathy would make some disputes – although not all of them – dissipate. (Think about the effect that a doctor’s apology to a patient has had in alleged medical malpractice situations.) Obviously, there are some disputes that only money can cure. .. ! But for the rest. . . there is empathy!
. . . Just something to think about!