Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Because it's a form of intelligence

The title of this post is one obvious answer to the question "why empathy?"

It's been a little while (okay, a week) since I last posted, and the topic is one I've already covered at length, so I'll keep it short before moving onto some stuff I consider even more interesting.

I just stumbled upon this piece on CNN about a woman who was convinced her husband was a Rockefeller. Well, it turns out a more accurate term than "Rockefeller" is porbably "psychopath." In her own words:
"The defendant (note: her ex-husband) was often very unpleasant -- lack of empathy, anger, control issues, absolutely. I'm not a psychologist, but he was hard to live with ... I saw behavior that made me think that he wasn't at all well, yes,"
There's quite a bit of literature on the topic of deceitful marriages that sound incredibly similar to her own story. One point that needs to be driven home is that it doesn't just happen to morons. Even smart people get taken in:
[His defense attorney] asked how a successful businesswoman who was educated at Stanford and Harvard universities could fall for an impostor who called himself Clark Rockefeller.

"There's a big difference between intellectual intelligence and emotional intelligence," Boss explained. "I'm not saying I made a very good choice of a husband. It's obvious I had a pretty big blind spot."
I've often asked myself the same question: how is it even remotely possible that an intelligent person could be unable to detect something so striking as an incapability for empathy in a potential spouse? It reminds me of those common articles titled something like "10 Things You And Your Spouse Should Discuss Before Marriage." They're often filled with questions about finances and where you want to live, and miss the big one: what is he really like? What's going on in that noggin'?

Besides the common use of empathy in helping other people, it's a pretty critical piece in helping oneself. There are simply fewer surprises when you have a mental model of what drives other people.

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