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What can we do to make people in this digital age more empathetic towards one another rather than apathetic?

I would like to see what you may think about how people react to one another now a days since technology has taken over our world in many great ways, yet serves to be disadvantageous when it comes to how people are interacting with one another aka more apathetically. What are your views on this and what do you think can be done to change this interaction before it becomes dangerous?

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    Nov 28 2013: are you sure it has decreased empathy, Radhika? It might increase empathy, might it not, people can learn more about the world through the Internet, for example, and possibly become more empathetic?
    • Nov 30 2013: I agree.
      I realized whenever I watch news and videos on Youtube, I tend to be more emotionally connected with the people in different places. Those videos make me laugh, cry, and feel gratitude.

      I think through internet, I become more empathetic. It really does stimulate my emotional reactions.
      It makes me impressed, think, and care…
      What we need is a tool for connection.
      And thankfully, internet does the work.
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        Nov 30 2013: Well, it brings together many things that it would be hard to bring together if you were limited to only local things, true?

        Elizabeth, do you think there may be some truth to Radhika's position, are there ways it could decrease empathy?
        • Dec 1 2013: Hi :)
          It’s like a double-edged sword.
          It[digital age, internet] could either inspire you in a way that you’ve never given it a much thought yet, but suddenly you get to see, realize things..
          Or it could distract your attentions and make you indifferent to others.
          So, in that way, I think Radhika has a point.
          Whether it’s internet or education or whatever, what makes you empathetic toward people is nonetheless your mindset.
          As for me, emotional stimuli through getting a lot of (including visual) information happens to help form a ‘caring’ attitude toward people. So I shall disagree with her in some part.

          What are your thoughts on this, greg?
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        Dec 1 2013: as best I can tell, Elizabeth, you are right, that it can go either way. But here is a question, how do you explain someone who is low on empathy, such as a criminal who steals things from people because they do not understand how their action affects the person they steal from? Perhaps the criminal is low on imagination, is it true that empathy requires imagination, to put yourself in the place of the other person and imagine how they are feeling? If you were trying to help a criminal become more empathetic, what would you do?

        You seem to be a person with a lot of feeling, seeing how you are strongly affected by videos. Maybe you could be an actor, have you done any acting?
        • Dec 1 2013:
          (I want you to watch this first.)
          “is it true that empathy requires imagination, to put yourself in the place of the other person and imagine how they are feeling?”
          Hmm…do you think a criminal is low on imagination? I think they are rather full of imaginations, but just obsessed with one particular purpose—doing what they intend to do, whether it’s killing spree or just stealing.
          Although I don’t entirely agree with Paul Zak’s idea that oxytocin makes us moral, but it does make sense in a way that creates some sort of hormonal effects—which leads to being empathetic. I heard that criminals’ brains are different from others(according to a research, their brain lack something which makes people feel pity for others.)

          Well, when we’re in kindergarten, teachers taught us how to play, ‘if I was in his/her shoes’ games. That kind of thing does help improve kids’ imagination. So, yeah, imagination helps nurture empathy in our minds.
          But is it fundamentally required..?
          I’m not sure.

          LOL I’m not sure whether you’re trying to tease me or you just really meant it, but yes.
          I want to be an actress at some point.
          I think in this era of digital world(so to speak), visual materials affect us a lot more than ever before.
          Sometimes those even manipulate young people.
          I believe visual effects are indeed powerful, especially to the people who are prone to be influenced by….
          I’m not saying I believe all those messages from videos.
          But I tend to be into those visual effects with the sound…and eventually the messages in them.
          Quite fascinating to me.
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        Dec 1 2013: well, can you tell me how a person could have empathy without imagination, by definition empathy seems to mean putting yourself imaginatively in another person's place? Or am I wrong?

        Good point about criminal maybe not due to lack of imagination. But if you were assigned to reform a criminal, how would you do it?

        No, not teasing. I can see you are smart from talking to me, also you have 500 comments on TED, that shows you are smart. Also you are person of feeling, that shows from your reaction to video. So these are the things you need to be an actress, intelligence and emotion, right? Have you chosen career, what is it?
        • Dec 1 2013: I don’t think we should think of empathy and imagination separately.
          I believe every human being has empathy in itself—we’re born to have that.
          But as we grow up, quite a lot of us prioritize different feelings and purposes over feeling pity for others. And we end up arguing whether we even have empathy.
          Some just get used to being apathetic, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have hearts.
          To me, ‘imagine’ sounds like a brain work. It’s related to your emotion—and your spirit, if you will.
          However, it’s also just a way of being emotional.
          ‘how a person could have empathy without imagination,…’
          It’s not like you learn to imagine his/her situations first and feel sorry for him/her, I think.
          I think you could (immediately) feel something, and then it leads to imagination.
          What we learned as a child (maybe) was not about being empathetic, but remembering what makes us empathetic so that when you face a situation where you need to care for others and help them, you act on it immediately without considering your own interest or something like called selfishness.
          Well, as for me being assigned to reform a criminal, I would first try to analyze his life—what he’s been going through, what was the worst event of his life, what made him like this, etc.
          There must be a reason(or reasons) why he chose to be like this.
          And those reasons could be the ones which almost destroyed his ability to feel empathy toward others. I’m pretty sure he’s been justifying himself because of them.
          And then I would think, “What if he had been in different situations?
          Could he have been a different person?”

          I should ponder about it more..
          Anyway, what an interesting question, greg!
          Btw, truth be told, I haven’t really chosen my career yet.
          I was going to be a teacher—and I kinda was for a while lol as a part time instructor.
          But right now, I’m still a college student.
          I’m 21, I always make myself understood of the fact that I’m still young (that I can do anything).
        • Dec 1 2013: At the same time I’ve been telling myself to be more rational.
          But I want to do so many things as if I were a child, lol
          I want to be a writer, translator, journalist, actress, and most importantly lawyer. Lol

          LOL You think I’m smart because of my 500 comments on Ted. That is an intriguing way of praising a person(considering the fact that you wrote 2000comments here). But thank you!
          But hearing my goals(if not pipedreams), you might want to change your mind, lol

          It’s great talking with you,
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        Dec 1 2013: in other words, Elizabeth, when we are a baby we have empathy? Can you say more about that, what is your evidence for that? Because you can't remember what it was like to be a baby, can you?

        Well, looks like you will be great at whatever you do. Of the five or six jobs on your list, actress is the most fun, I think, and the most challenging therefore you will grow the most. Have you ever acted in the past, maybe you should take an acting class and see how you feel. Here in Los Angeles I have sometimes worked as an extra in TV and movies, do you know what an extra is, they are on camera in scenes but do not speak, they only help to give the scene realism. For example, in a restaurant scene you might see many people at different tables, but only a few speak, the others are extras. But as you work as an extra you learn a lot about the acting profession.
        • Dec 2 2013: I saw an interesting documentary film.
          A mom gets hurt in front of a baby, and she pretends like it’s hurting her—real bad.
          She cries(to show the baby how much it’s painful to her) and screams, “Ouch! Ooouch!”
          Guess what, the baby starts to show concerns and eventually bursts into tears.
          (And then the mom suddenly stops crying and smiles at her baby to soothe her. )

          This little experiment shows even a baby can have empathy and express it in his own way.
          So, yeah, I think from the day we were born, we basically have the ability to feel empathy—well, even if it’s just a basic, instinct reaction. And we as time goes by we develop it with—what you’ve mentioned so far—imagination.

          No, I haven’t played a role, have never attended any acting classes.
          Wow, that’ awesome!
          You’ve worked as an actor.
          I should keep your advice in mind.
          What do you think is the most important trait that an actor has to have..?.

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        Dec 2 2013: do you think a mother should run an experiment like that on her baby, does it seem cruel?

        to me the most important quality of an actress is the ability to stay calm when there is much stimulation, because when you are acting you are in the spotlight, there are many eyes on you, camera and lights on you, and yet you still have to focus on your job and portray character effectively. Really this is true on any job that is ambitious or intense, I think it is true for lawyer as well, stay calm despite pressure, but acting environment is one of the most intense.

        I believe in some circumstance lawyer has to be actor, what do you think?

        Since I have done many jobs, Liz, in the end I decide the best job is dairy farmer. For about five years now I have been living almost entirely on cow milk, I really enjoy. But I notice Asian people don't drink much milk, do you know why? I hear has something to do with Buddhism?

        If you become lawyer what sort of law? How will you make final decision about career?
        • Dec 2 2013: What do you think, do you feel like it's cruel?lol Yes a little.

          You work as a dairy farmer. That’s terrific! But I’m not sure why you think Asian people don’t drink much milk lol. Well, I’ve never thought it’s because of Buddhism. I don’t know, maybe some Asians are not used to drinking milk. You know, perhaps milk is not good for their stomachs—and it’s true for the people who have weak stomachs according to oriental doctors. But In China and Korea, a lot of people drink milk in the morning. In school, we drink milk.
          The ability to stay calm…I totally agree.
          “I think it is true for lawyer as well, stay calm despite pressure, but acting environment is one of the most intense.”
          Well, I recall I’ve had a lot of chances to participate in debates, sing in front of school body(was a choir member), and even, now I remember, play a role in some Chinese play in front of a large audience. Especially I love this exciting feeling before jumping into the stage and give a presentation. I really do enjoy that kind of thrilling environment. Although the pressure could be huge, I’ve learned how to stay calm. But nonetheless, that isn’t always an easy task. Certainly requires some sort of self-training process.
          As for lawyer being an actor, yes, I believe I need to learn how to control my emotional expressions to be a lawyer. In front of a huge crowd,it's natural for me to get a little too excited. I would sometimes feel uncomfortable, nervous or even angry.
          But I was able to learn how to relax and be calm.

          I think you really did tell me the most important thing, I appreciate it.

          I want to be either an immigration lawyer or a criminal lawyer.
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        Dec 2 2013: thank you, Elizabeth. Yes, I think it's wrong, baby should be allowed to rest in peace.

        Maybe baby cannot have empathy, because baby is very vulnerable and mostly think about self, mostly worry about one's own security? To have empathy possibly you must have some strength and security yourself so that you can then turn your eyes outward?

        No, I'm not a dairy farmer, Liz, it just seems like the best job. Where I live, there is no agriculture, it is a suburb of Los Angeles. Also I don't have wife, I think is very hard to be dairy farmer without spouse.

        Why I think Asian people drink little milk? Here we have many Asian restaurants and we see no milk for sale. Also, I have had some very good Asian friends. I visit their house quite often, and I observe they do not drink milk.

        Here is a chart that shows worldwide milk consumption per person (per capita, which means per person.) You will see that Asia is extremely low. But I wonder why, as milk is very nice food. Here in the U.S. we say it is a remedy if your stomach is upset, drink some warm milk.

        Yes,your calmness under pressure tells me that I was right, that you could be good actress. But maybe you are a little more intellectual than emotional? so maybe lawyer better. But I think you should go for high-level job, for example teacher is not very high-level except maybe university professor.

        Do you see any value in agricultural job, I think is very nice, wholesome, healthy, challenging.
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        Dec 2 2013: Liz, if you look at the chart, I think you will have to scroll down on the left to see milk consumption per capita, the link will not allow me to take you directly to this info map, instead it takes you to total milk production per country, this is also interesting but does not tell you how much milk each person consumes in the region.
        • Dec 2 2013: According to your profile, you said,” I would like to get people interested in the masai diet, which focuses on products of the cow, milk and beef. “
          That’s so fascinating…
          I’m curious, what made you be into masai diet?
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        Dec 2 2013: well, I was watching a video similar to the one you describe Elizabeth. I saw a mother cry and then the baby cry. But it seemed to me that the baby might cry only because it was afraid for itself, not because it feels sorry for the mother, because when the mother is crying it means she is overwhelmed by the situation and cannot protect the baby as well. This made me think that the baby cannot feel empathy but only concern for self. Also hard for baby to feel empathy because it does not have language, we do use language a lot when we are learning to feel empathy? What is the connection beween being able to talk and feeling empathy?

        Well, Asian people eat meat that contains protein and fat, what is the difference if milk contains protein and fat? In theory, milk should be easier to digest than meat because it is liquid and because it has no iron, like meat does.

        In my case I am drinking mostly skim milk, which has no fat. Whole milk, which has more fat, is harder to digest.

        Yes, I think it is challenging to keep some crops going, or keep some animals alive and producing food.

        Well, I don't know why you say impossible, maybe now you are teasing me. But what do you think other people have that you don't have, after all, someone has to get the high-level jobs. But you do have to settle on a goal, it seems like you have a list but you haven't settled on your goal. Maybe you need some career counseling?
        • Dec 2 2013: “we do use language a lot when we are learning to feel empathy? What is the connection beween being able to talk and feeling empathy?”

          Greg, do you think animals can feel empathy? I think however little it might be, they do have some sort of empathy toward (especially) their offspring and partners.
          Does having an ability to feel empathy have to do with being able to talk?
          What would be the first? Could be chicken first or egg first question, but I think we can feel empathy without the help of languages.
          What you’re saying is so reasonable; that a baby cries because of ‘fear’. It’s apparent that human being (at such a young age) just—instinctively care for himself. And it’s a nature.

          Even love would be partly out of selfishness—to feel happiness, to be satisfied, etc.
          Then I should ask you, empathy could also be based on feeling pain. If someone is in danger, and it[the fact that he’s in danger] makes you feel sorry. It’s painful to see that. You want to care for him not just for helping, but partly for soothing yourself—not to feel pain. Say, seeing the poor tortures your heart. You think it’s because you happen to be a helper, but isn’t the desire to help others for yourself?
          How come the way a baby feels empathy(or we could call it with different words) be different from the way an adult feels empathy?
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        Dec 4 2013: Liz, the main reason I like the Masai diet is because I like milk. I am living almost entirely on milk, and it has really helped me. I do think it is better than all the other foods.

        Also, I like it because I think milk and beef are the two most delicious foods.

        Also, I like it because I would like to see people do more agriculture, in other words, I would like to see more people providing more of their own foods, and I think raising a cow or a goat is more interesting than raising vegetables.

        One way I stick on milk is the Maasai say "If a man eats beef and drinks milk on the same day, he is a glutton." Therefore, since I don't want to be a glutton, I have to choose every day whether I will eat beef or drink milk. Since I miss milk more if I don't get it, I am always choosing milk.
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        Dec 4 2013: well, I was thinking that the connection of language and empathy is that we often feel empathy when people tell us their problems in words. But I guess we could watch a silent movie and feel empathy for the characters, too?

        Maybe a baby has the potential for empathy, but not empathy yet because it has not developed?
  • Nov 28 2013: Empathy is not DONE.
    Empathy is not TAUGHT.
    Empathy is not aware of itself.

    Empathy is a Symptom

    Find the origin of the symptom.
    Then your question will fall away.
    You cannot transform the world until you transform yourself. :-)
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    Gord G

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    Dec 2 2013: I argue that's it's not the digital age, but the communication age that's contributing to society's lack of empathy. Television programming is inundated with reality TV. These television programs make judgement and ridicule entertainment. People become unsympathetic characters in someone's view of the world. I think it's a small step to disassociate from people they encounter in their daily life and see them as one dimensional characters that don't deserve our understanding.

    In military terms I believe it's called collateral damage.
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    Nov 30 2013: I think if more websites were to take negative online behavior more seriously, then that would change how the users apathy. Sort of like having an authority figure in the room to arbitrate issues.
  • Nov 30 2013: We are able to hide more behind our computers or phones and feel safe than face the problem at hand ourselves because we are able to control every interaction on the web for ourselves, now I don't know if this is a good thing or not.
  • Nov 30 2013: Hello Everyone,

    My question purely stems from recent readings I did.
    There are a few studies being conducted to describe how technology is affecting specific parts of our brain that allows us to be empathetic.

    And no I really do mean is it making us less empathetic rather than more? We are paying less attention to each other and maintaining less contact with each other at a physical level. Most of the time, we are looking at our phones or computers while speaking to one another rather than actually facing each other directly taking away from the emotion and feelings that you get while being in the presence of another human being.
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    Nov 29 2013: We must know selfisness and self-centredness for what they are. And we should stop thinking these are cool.
  • Nov 29 2013: There are so many varialbes. I would expect a decline in empathy with rapidly growing world population.
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    Nov 28 2013: I do believe the technology has made us less empathic, or at least it's became much more safe to act as an a-hole.

    Look how people in cars (which can be deadly weapons) are aggressive, cutting people of, hitting the gas-pedal while people are crossing the zebra, swearing. People feel safe in their little cocoon and will never talk or act like that when meeting in the street or in an establishment. I do feel that some people's real attitude come floating up while being in a 'protected' environment like that.

    Probably why this cyberbullying is such a big deal now; instead of face to face bullying (which is bad enough), now they go viral and it's not the bully of who the bullied kid is afraid of, but the whole world. Sad development i.m.o

  • Nov 28 2013: I think this is a chicken or the egg question really. Which came first; Less empathy? or More technology? Personally, I don't think technology makes a person less empathetic. I think whether you are empathetic or not is largely dependent on how you were raised. If you are an empathetic person you will be an empathetic person online. If you aren't, you won't be.
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    Nov 28 2013: More sitting still AND more walking:

    1.) a.-Something like zazen untangles the stress that pushes us to road rage and depression as well as the cognitive decline cause by being in a perpetual state of fight or flight.

    1.) b.-it helps us let go of desparate craving for material stuff, which drives us to work too hard and to see people as just another commodity that is there for our benefit.

    2.) Exercise also helps to release stress, improve positive chemical flow in the brain, and improve your sense of connectedness. Bonus points if you walk along a stream or through the woods.
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    Nov 27 2013: "change this interaction before it becomes dangerous"

    I have no idea what you're talking about. Please explain.
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    Nov 27 2013: Do we have evidence that empathy has decreased as technology has become a bigger part of our lives, or is this just an assumption you are making? Could you share the evidence you have?