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Risk of Empathy

SergioDiaz's picture

Empathy and pity are closely related social constructs that are used to relate to human experiences and across cultural identities. However, identifying with an experience becomes a problem when pity is the main source of relation because it could lead to a misunderstanding of situation. To summarize what I found Megan Bowler’s main points in The Risks of Empathy, she describes the main risk of empathy is that it can become pity and if this happens there is no full understanding of how oneself is implicated in the creation of the social situations of the Other.  Without this understanding and cross-cultural analysis I feel like something is missing fundamentally from the multicultural space. I find that this idea of empathy v. pity relatable to the lack of understanding of classism and racism in the United States.

The ability for many people to “feel” what others feel, laying claim to experience as if it was their own by simply identifying themselves in that situation makes me uneasy. I believe it is a problem especially when interpreting testimony because one cannot fully understand oppression of life experiences by identifying with them. Only those with experiences of oppression can be able to understand what oppression is. I believe that, as Yukari Takimoto Amos touches on in Navigating Marginality, this is an important part of being a multicultural educator. A teacher must not only be able to identify with the struggles of their students or with characters in a story, but they should understand the structural forces behind the struggle and how their own role in society has affected these situations. Only then could we have empathy rather than pity. Or at least we can hope we do.