Saturday, March 10, 2007

empathy and guilt

I was watching the news, this afternoon. It seems that someone has abducted a three-day old infant from a hospital in Texas.

What was this person thinking? Were they mentally ill? Or was there some bizarre sense of entitlement? Or something truly sinister?

I thought about how we try to avoid guilt, and especially avoid arousing feelings of guilt in others. However, as I imagined the situation of this child abductor, it occurs to me that guilt is a feeling related to empathy. Perhaps this person was never encouraged to feel guilt.

So I'm asking the question, without offering more than the notion, that guilt is the emotion that allows us to experience the pain we inflict on others. Thus from experiencing guilt we learn empathy.

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"If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."
-E.M. Forster