Posted in Communication, Compassion, Empathy, Groups

Daniel Goleman on the “Empathy Gap”

Psychologist Daniel Goleman neatly tied together empathy as a micro-level behavioral interaction, and macro-level politics around social justice issues, in Rich People Just Care Less.  As he illustrates, researchers are “bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power,” which  “has implications for public policy.”

Goleman describes research that shows that people with social power tend to pay very little attention to those without social power. (The reverse is not true.) Those with social power also tend to exaggerate differences between themselves and those who belong to groups with less power, and to minimize the hardships experienced by those with less social power.

Sound familiar? Here are the macro-level social implications in a nutshell:

This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action.

In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.

Goleman, D. (2013, October 5). Rich people just care less. The New York Times. Retrieved from