Thursday, October 10, 2013

Empathetic Pangs

I was driving to class, today, and, in the middle of the road, I saw the corpse of an animal that was hit by a car. I felt horrible, like someone had wrenched my heart out of my chest. This wasn't a new feeling. It's a feeling I feel when I see someone sitting alone and crying. It's a feeling I feel when I hear about people being killed in warzones. It's a feeling I feel when I see the picture of the screaming child sitting in the ruined city of Hiroshima after it was nuked. It's not always as strong or weak, but the basic feeling is the same.

There's a similar feeling I feel, too. This one I feel when I see someone smiling or friends having a good time. This makes me feel energized and happy.

But is it a similar feeling? I don't think so. I think it's the same feeling, just in the opposite direction. This is caused by empathy.

Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. You see someone in pain, and you feel the pain. Empathy is one of the strongest mental forces we have, perhaps dwarfed by the instinct to survive.

When one gets overwhelmed by a bad feeling very suddenly because of empathy, I call this feeling an empathetic pang. The opposite feeling is a negative empathetic pang.

These pangs and negative pangs are often mislabeled as morality. They are "just" empathy, and that's all morality is, empathetic pangs mistaken as something else. I put just in quotes because I see nothing trivial about empathy. Empathy isn't something to brush off or ignore.

This is why I get baffled by people who say "If morality is 'just' emotional feelings, why should I care?" This makes me wonder if they have ever felt emotion. Emotion drives us. Emotion gives us the reasons to do shit. Emotion can feel great or horrible. You should care because it is your emotions.

So next time you feel an empathetic pang, remember that this is what people are talking about when they call something morally wrong. That feeling is the very essence of morality.

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