That Empathy Thing

    982
    0

    Last month, as you might recall, the interwebs came apart at the seams because of a dress. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that was either white and gold or blue and black. Everyone had an opinion, and there were as many explanations for the discrepancy as there were people to explain.

    For example, Jay Neitz, a University of Washington neuroscientist told wired.com that, “Our visual system is supposed to throw away information about the illuminant and extract information about the actual reflectance,” which is proof that readers of Wired think they are all that and a bag of chips.

    Neitz was countered on another website by Daniel Oprian, a biochemistry professor at Brandeis University, who says that the difference is easily explained by light’s directional skewing on the photoreceptor absorption spectrum.

    From yet another corner of the web, some equally compelling perspective was provided by Bashol, Ninth Incarnation of Vamazq, who declared, “I call upon Shimdar the Avenger to cleave the dimensional planes with his Compactifying Mace! The Endtimes Prophecy has been revealed in sigils of blue and black – what? No, Mom! They are NOT white and gold! Get out of my MMORPG! Gah!”

    Meanwhile, I was bemused by the entire brouhaha. Is it really news that different people would take the same fact set and come to such radically different conclusions? Has no one ever heard of the House of Representatives? Or the House of Moore?

    Seriously, I invite you into my home. The home I have shared for many happy years with my wife, Dena, and my two sons, Ben and Sam.

    Look at those cushions on the floor? What do you see?

    Ben and Sam: A landing pad for diving goalie saves.

    Dena: I see the senseless destruction of an expensive piece of furniture.

    And how about that green stuff on your dinner plate?

    Dena: A healthful antioxidant!

    Sam: Steamed broccoli. Again.

    Ben: A choking hazard.

    What about this shadow figure I am making on the wall?

    Dena, Ben, and Sam: We see a ridiculous man.

    Well, okay, there is usually consensus around that one point. But more often than not, we Moores see even the simplest things differently.

    Eleven o’clock?

    Sam: Bedtime!

    Ben: Time for a milkshake at Cook Out!

    Dena and Chris: Curfew!

    So, yes, we are a family with differing points of view. Yours probably is, too. As parents, it is important that we teach our children how to handle people with different points of view. As you might expect, there are various opinions as to how to best accomplish this.

    Chris: Bribe them.

    Dena: Listen, then compromise.

    Bashol, Ninth Incarnation of Vamazq: Grind them to dust under the heel of your seven-league boots!

    And of course, Dena wins! What she is talking about is the elusive (some would say mythical) quality known as empathy. Empathy is the tendency for our proudest body parts to wrinkle, sag, and shrivel as we age. No, wait. That’s entropy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Since children are human beings (despite their occasional presentation as demons, banshees, and miniature tornadoes) and human beings are, by nature, selfish and greedy (except for you, Dena, honey!), teaching empathy can often be a challenge.

    A great way to determine your child’s natural capacity for empathy is to show her a puppy at an animal adoption event. If she immediately scoops up the puppy, oohs and aahs and hugs the puppy and names it Flufferdoodle, congratulations, you have just adopted a puppy! (And, perhaps, in the process, learned that your child has some minimum level of natural empathy.) If, on the other hand, your child immediately tries to feed that adorable puppy to Redrum, the slavering hellhound in the adjoining kennel, you have established that your child’s natural capacity for empathy is low. (But as a consolation, you have adopted Redrum.)

    The parenting lesson here is clear: Do not take your children to animal adoption events.

    Once upon a time, Dena and I thought we had a surefire way to help our children develop empathy and learn to better understand someone who held a different point of view. When they would get into arguments, we would have them sit down at the kitchen table and talk out their grievances. Neither could get up until each granted the other permission to leave, and such permission would only be granted when each felt he had been heard and understood.

    It took some time, of course, and the strategy had to be employed each time the boys had an argument. But, after many months and many hours of sitting at the negotiating table, the boys learned the vital skill of arguing very quietly and out of earshot of their parents in order to avoid having to sit at the kitchen table stubbornly refusing to budge on his point of view. That empathy thing is still a work in progress.

    At the end of the day, the most important thing is that the Internet is back to normal, undermining our GDP one cat video and Kim Kardashian butt photo at a time. But for the historical record, here is how the Moores weighed in on the Great Dress Debate. Ben and Dena saw white and gold. Sam saw blue and black.

    I saw a pair of slacks.