Will the human race survive?

Social distancing has become the new norm in the entire planet and its effectiveness is measured by the ability of each individual to care for others. The virus, hits harder seniors and people with pre-conditions but a healthy person could easily be infected as well without knowing it. For this reason, the message is that everyone should maintain distance even if you don’t have symptoms but it seems like some people are having a difficult time putting themselves in the shoes of those at risk. Why is that?  

Today’s global pandemic crisis has shown the importance of empathy and compassion in any given culture for the survival of our species. Empathy is defined as the ability to understands the emotion of another person while being aware of the causes, while Compassion means genuinely wanting to alleviate someone’s suffering. As you can see these two terms are closely related to each other and should be essential in any in society and any of its systems. Especially in the health system, where caring for others should be the top priority, studies have shown the decrease of empathy and compassion among health workers through the span of their careers. One study shows how the level of empathy in nurses starts decreasing at the very beginning of education, a long time before they start actually working in the field(Chao 2020). In other work fields the positive impact of empathy and compassion are clearly seen across the work environment and have proven to increase feelings of gratitude and reduced anxiety among coworkers. (Liliu et al 2008). It seems like compassion and empathy promote collectives’ positive outcomes in any system they are present. (Dutton 2006). Especially in education, empathy and compassion seem to be virtues of the system. According to Alberta Education empathy is part of the Teaching Standard Quality any teacher should exhibit at any time but there seems to be no mandatory programs that foster the terms (Alberta Education 2020). According to Bridget Cooper in his book Empathy in Education, empathy plays a role in learning through all levels of education, and it is crucial for motivation and the development of values. Cooper further discusses how the [education] system preaches personalized learning and the promotion of good citizenship but are still advocating an intensive, rigid curriculum, in large, one size fits all, classes suggesting that there is a lack of empathy from the whole system itself (Cooper 2011). 

Its pretty clear that there are many benefits of empathy and compassion but even then we have to be very careful with the way these terms are taught and introduced in education. Character education, a form of education that claims to promote virtues like morality and ethics, has been the focus of some studies on conformity where in some curriculum they use the word empathy to, in a way, control and manipulate children’s and behavior (Leming 1993). In other areas where specifically empathy seems to be against principle is in psychoanalysis. It has been point out that an analyst may not be able to remain empathic toward her client and authentic to herself, resulting in conflict at the moment of analysis (Orange 2002). 

Aside from these apparently minimal drawbacks, Empathy and Compassion have proven to be of monumental value not only for the development and advancement of our civilizations as humans but also for the survival of our species.

 

References:

Chao, Y. Zhu, (2020) The Effect of structure empathy education on empathy competence of undergraduate nursing interns. Nurse Education Today, 85. 

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2019.104296

J.M. Lilius, (2008) The Contours and consequences of compassion at work. Journal of Organizational Behavior, pp 193-200

G.Dutton, (2008). Increase commitment to a vision.Giving commitment: Employee supports programs and the prosocial sensemaking process. Academy of Management Journal, 51 pp 898-918

J.S. Leming(1993) In Search of effective Character Education. Educational Leadership 51 (3) pp 63-71

D.Orange (2002) There is no outside: Empathy and Authenticity in psychoanalytic process. Psychoanalytic Psychology 19(4) pp 686-700

12 thoughts on “Will the human race survive?

    1. Hi Arturo,

      This was a good and exciting read. You made some excellent points on compassion and empathy, and as you stated, they are essential and can, at times, correlate with one another. At the beginning of the pandemic, I feel like we all held a high level of empathy and compassion for one another and what’s going on. However, I feel as though that decreases as time has passed with being in quarantine. We’ve all reached a level of depression and burnout that some have turned all those feelings into frustration.

      I think it is essential to learn and distinguish whether or not values such as compassion and empathy are innate or if they can be taught throughout the health system. A study was done on nurses and the nursing therapeutics, and it confirmed that yes, establishing, compassion, empathy and over therapeutic relationship building is fundamental in nursing practices. However, these concepts can be learned through the health system and something that is instilled in undergrad students (Richardson et al.,2015). It’s important to note that just like us, they do can have burnout. This leads to compassion fatigue, which, in turn, results in the less effective delivery of care overall (Raab, 2014). for us to best serve and have compassion for others, there needs to be a level of self-compassion. Thus it’s essential to work on our mindfulness using the MBSR and other mindfulness interventions first. Then we can genuinely feel for others (Raab, 2014). This is why I think there’s been a decrease in “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.”

      Also, I came across a study that takes about, in turn, effects that it may have on students learning during this time. Could you give it a read, it’s pretty impressive. It aims to understand why students’ compassion and empathy may have decreased at this moment due to the pandemic. Reference: Shors, T. J. (2004). Learning during stressful times. Learning & Memory, 11(2), 137-144.

      Raab, K. (2014). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and empathy among health care professionals: a review of the literature. Journal of health care chaplaincy, 20(3), 95-108.

      Richardson, C., Percy, M., & Hughes, J. (2015). Nursing therapeutics: Teaching student nurses care, compassion and empathy. Nurse Education Today, 35(5), e1-e5.

      Shors, T. J. (2004). Learning during stressful times. Learning & Memory, 11(2), 137-144.

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      1. That was an excellent read Arturo, thank you. I find the topic of compassion and empathy in regards to the pandemic and quarantine a sensitive one that i see a lot of people starting to bubble about. I think the analogy of a boiling pot that may be to filled with water an accurate one. I would like to point your attention to the UK reopening in some of the same ways that we have done in the last handful of days. Unlike most areas where we are and what I like to think people have still remained quite responsible with the reopening. In the UK thousands flocked to beaches and the parks to be shoulder to shoulder with each other the news feeds have been rampant with news of the UK going ballistic with people breaking lock down. Now the words empathy and compassion are strongly ignored as the vulnerable groups like the elderly or predisposed people with medical diagnoses are left to fend for themselves.

        A study I came across by Richardson and colleagues actually the same one that Julia mentions about nurses having compassion and care having to be taught it or is it just innate among them. The results of the study showed that characteristics such as the ones we are talking about compassion, empathy, caring and or care giving can be taught attributes or characteristics of people (Richardson, C., Percy, M., & Hughes, J., 2015). When talking about these people that are breaking lock down rules and the bubbling boiling pot that is going to over flow maybe it is not all lost, maybe there does need to be a reality check why we are in lock down and why we are all taking sacrifices to be quarantined. But it does still all come back to self risk and choice as well as trying to be aware that maybe you are in the population that has a good statistic but a death does not just affect one person so being empathetic is important to understand.

        Reference

        Richardson, C., Percy, M., & Hughes, J. (2015). Nursing therapeutics: Teaching student nurses care, compassion and empathy. Nurse Education Today, 35(5), e1-e5.

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  1. I think you make some really good points, that empathy and compassion are key in society and especially in this crisis, however a lot of people either lack or selfishness overcomes it. I guess to play devils advocate, do you think people are taught to lack empathy and compassion or rather do you think the lack of becomes a coping mechanism?

    For example, any health care worker has experiences a death at least once in their career, however others may not be so long and have an extending list. Death after death becomes exhausting and emotionally draining that at some point people become desensitized. I think the process of this seems to show a lack of compassion and empathy, but I feel they are more diligent at hiding it, so that each death becomes less painful. Without this coping mechanism, I feel like doctors and nurses would not last five years in their field of expertise. In the study I found, it mentions that if health care professionals do not properly grieve the death of a patient before another one passes, this can lead to compassion fatigue.

    References:

    Allie, Z., le Roux, E., Mahlatsi, K., Mofokeng, B., Ramoo, Z-A., Sibiya, K., Joubert, G., van Rooyen, J. P., & Brits, H. (2018). Bereavement overload and its effects on, and related coping mechanisms of health care providers and ward administrators at National District Hospital in Bloemfontein, Free State. African Journal of Primary Health Care and Family Medicine, 10. DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/phcfm.v10i1.1652

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  2. Western cultures tend to believe that the education system as is stands today, is the only way to learn, however, as we have seen in this class, there is much improvement to be made. Empathy is just one such area that is lacking. In one of our online discussions I mentioned the documentary “Children Full of Life” (Hinohara & Nogami, 2003) where the teaching style revolves around empathy and achieving happiness. This may seem odd when viewed through an individualistic lens, in contrast, Japanese culture instead puts the needs of the whole first. In addition, his classes involve teamwork, coping skills, vulnerability and relating academics to real life to increase association and memorization. The way they experience emotion will instead allow them to focus on the context of the situation, and move through their emotions, regulating them faster. Whereas, western based education may not prepare children with the appropriate mechanisms. Thus, a child would instead be aroused, creating a higher level of cortisol, and react defensively. This approach of working together as a society, may be helpful when moving forward through this pandemic, and whatever uncertainties we face in the future.

    Gravitas Venures (Hinorhara, N., & Nogami, J., NHK). (2003, May11). Children full of life [video file]. Retrieved from https://topdocumentaryfilms.com/children-full-of-life/#comments

    Rudy, J. (2014). The neurobiology of learning and memory, second edition. Sutherland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.

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  3. Awesome topic! I too wonder how we are going to survive based on the current events. I recently saw a video of a man getting rejected to enter Costco because the customer wasn’t wearing a mask and it is company policy (in the states I believe) that you wear a mask, customer and staff. The customers argument was that “he woke up in a free country”. Which is true, he did, but the point of wearing a mask is to protect others. This blew my mind because I thought it would be common decency. I completely agree with the statement we lack empathy in this time.

    Lane in our class did a study on teaching empathy in Sweden and how it correlates to academic performance! I recommend checking that out. Also, I read an article recently during my research on my own topic about teaching empathy in a post-empathetic world. A study, done by Dr. William Axinn of the Populations Study Center shows that the average level of “empathic concern” declined by 48% between 1979 and 2009, with a particularly large decline between 2000 and 2009. The authors suggest “that the decline might be due to a number of factors, including the rise of narcissism in youth, the increase in personal technology and social media, shrinking family sizes, and heightened pressure for young people to succeed academically”. Which makes sense because i believe that these all are potential factors to narcissism. The question is how do we work on this collective narcissism and teach the children empathy? Or how do we incorporate this into the curriculum?

    Very interesting blog post!

    Keith Lambert, Teaching Empathy in a Post-Empathetic World https://www.educationworld.com/teaching-empathy-post-empathetic-world

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  4. Hi Arturo, I found a study which considers medical school students’ levels of distress and empathy. Interestingly, they found “personal distress during residency appears to have a negative effect on the quality of care that residents provide, and may parallel a decline in empathy” (Thomas, M.R., Dyrbye, L.N., Huntington, J.L., Lawson, K.L., Novotny, P.J., Sloan, J.A., & Shanafelt, T.D., 2007). They also mention other studies have pointed out well-being is a continuum and involves more factors than just becoming stress-free; for example, being challenged and responding well, and also taking care of the mental, emotional, spiritual, physical and social aspects of one’s life (Thomas et al, 2007). However, the authors points out that there are limited studies available on whether well-being enhances compassion or not, so we cannot draw final conclusions here just yet.

    In the current study, the authors hypothesized that “personal and professional distress are associated with lower levels of empathy” (Thomas et al, 2007). They tested their findings on medical students by evaluating relationships between empathy and measures of depression and burnout. They found one’s sense of personal accomplishment had a positive correlation with empathy, and was the same for both genders. They also found when screening for depression it did not have a significant impact on mens’ empathy, but for women symptoms of depression correlated with lower empathy scores (Thomas et al, 2007).

    The good news from their findings is that because we can positively impact our own well-being, we can improve these factors and hopefully our capacity and expression of empathy as well.

    Thomas, M. R., Dyrbye, L. N., Huntington, J. L., Lawson, K. L., Novotny, P. J., Sloan, J. A., & Shanafelt, T. D. (2007). How do distress and well-being relate to medical student empathy? A multicenter study. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 22(2), 177-183. doi:10.1007/s11606-006-0039-6

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  5. Thank you for differentiating compassion and empathy for us, to be honest I am having trouble with those two terms and this blog post certainly helped me with it! I do agree when you said that empathy is a crucial factor in our learning because through empathy, I believe some people can also work with their compassion because when we mix theses two factors can definitely help an individual to put all of their learnings not just through their minds but also through their hearts. Personally, the presence of empathy and compassion is certainly seen by our professors who work really hard for us to learn at our best of our abilities despite of this pandemic. Students on the other hand like us, also plays a huge part by cooperating with all these sudden changes with our educational system. Right now, it seems we are drastically changing with our new normal way of living and learning but through our cooperation, compassion and empathy with each other, I strongly believe that we can overcome this situation sooner than we expected. Loved your topic! Very informative.

    References:
    Eisenberg, N. (2003). Prosocial behavior, empathy, and sympathy.

    Birnie, K., Speca, M., & Carlson, L. E. (2010). Exploring self‐compassion and empathy in the context of mindfulness‐based stress reduction (MBSR). Stress and Health, 26(5), 359-371.

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  6. This was a very informative blog. Great backing evidence. I agree with what you say about nurse and for the majority of the nurses i have dealt with throughout my life, I find a lot of them become very ignorant towards people as they journey through nursing school. It seems like being a nurse is the cool thing to be. As important as nurses are, there are way too many of them that do not treat patients very well and I think they need to be taught a little bit more about being empathetic and learning more about morality and ethical issues. Empathy is a very important part of being a teacher, especially in the early stages of learning for children. In accordance to you talking about the pandemic and some people not putting themselves in the shoes of the more vulnerable, I agree with you 100%. A study I read on (Lahelma, 2014) basically says that teaching with empathy, care and passion is vital to educating in a correct manner. in regards to nurses, I looked at an article (Mete, 2007) about the empathy levels in the students as they went through school and there was slight increase in empathy, but nothing to the extent that they should be based on patients needs. Overall, great post!

    References:

    Lahelma, E., Lappalainen, S., Palmu, T., & Pehkonen, L. (2014). Vocational teachers’ gendered reflections on education, teaching and care. Gender & Education, 26(3), 293–305. https://doi-org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/10.1080/09540253.2014.901734

    Mete, S. (2007). The Empathic Tendencies and Skills of Nursing Students. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 35(9), 1181–1188. https://doi-org.ezproxy.uleth.ca/10.2224/sbp.2007.35.9.1181

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  7. Arturo I am thankful for your brain and insights! Thanks for addressing an important topic.
    I found that quite a few people have tailored their blogs this week to relevant impacts for our current situation which I love! interestingly, I found research is already coming out about it.
    One article written for our current situation touched on the misinformation and mistrust in the media, racism regarding the origin of the outbreak and the need for empathy during these times. Smith and his colleagues (2020) reflect that “once again that the fear of pandemic has further stoked a pandemic of fear. Healthcare professionals have not been exempt from such expression of hatred and racism, the BBC reported one Filipino cardiac nurse in England being asked to “stop spreading the virus” whilst on public transportation (BBC, 2020b). Such levels of xenophobia and racial profiling are utterly abhorrent and have no place in a modern civilised society,” and also make an important point: “Another important lesson that should have been learnt from previous experience, such as the SARS outbreak, is the need for appropriate psychological support for the healthcare professionals. Clinical nurses, especially those working in hospitals providing front‐line care for those with COVID‐19, are not only vulnerable to a higher risk of infection but also mental health problems.”
    Compassion and empathy will be vital to protect one another physically and in the aftermath mentally, as the current situation will likely be devastating in that arena, especially for healthcare workers!

    works consulted:

    Smith, G. D., Ng, F., & Ho Cheung Li, W. (2020). COVID‐19: Emerging compassion, courage and resilience in the face of misinformation and adversity. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 29(9-10), 1425-1428. doi:10.1111/jocn.15231

    Doraiswamy, S., Cheema, S., & Mamtani, R. (2020). Older people and epidemics: A call for empathy. Age and Ageing, 49(3), 493-493. doi:10.1093/ageing/afaa060

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  8. I enjoyed reading your blog post and I think you made many foundational judgments on the importance of empathy and compassion. I agree that empathy and compassion are vital and should be practiced regularly, especially in this time of mass distress and uncertainty. Some people have responded to your blog stating the innate nature of empathy and compassion, but I think like any of our innate abilities, the less we exercise our innate abilities, the less prevalent they become.

    Empathy and compassion, nevertheless, are rather subjective concepts that are hard to measure. For this reason, I think it is important for the education system to implement standardized empathy tests to validate the significance of integrating sympathy and compassion into schools. Reid and colleagues (2013) described behaviour, cognition, and ability to infer affect as components of sympathy that expand the complexity of sympathy. Reid and colleagues (2013) developed the development of the Kids’ Empathic Development Scale (KEDS) as a tool to help evaluate the core principles of sympathy. I think many schools should adopt similar means of assessing sympathy and compassion and the value they hold.

    Reference:

    Reid, C., Davis, H., Horlin, C., Anderson, M., Baughman, N., & Campbell, C. (2013). The kids’ empathic development scale (KEDS): A multi‐dimensional measure of empathy in primary school‐aged children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 31(2), 231-256. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12002

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  9. I very much enjoyed your post because of the relational understanding behind empathy and compassion. I took an addictions class in my second semester of first year and empathy was something I pondered quite a lot in examining the struggles and life choices of others. I never considered myself to be an empathetic person, and for a long time I assumed it was just part of my character. It was half way through the class, when I realized empathy is something that can be learned.

    In a study done on empathy, Heyes (2018) suggests that empathy is not a solely genetic behavior. It can be learned and through emotional cues and exposure to novel relationships. Heyes (2018) claims that we are more empathetic to those closest to us, but we can be trained to empathize with others by exposing ourselves to a wider range of agents. Like you have stated above, empathy is a crucial skill to have in the world of education. Those who are in leadership positions are called to embody compassion and empathy so that others may also learn from their example.

    Heyes, C. (2018). Empathy is not in our genes. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 95, 499-507. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2018.11.001

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