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[personal profile] jewelfox
I think it might be important to distinguish between reflexive and reflective empathy. They're terms that I just made up (or maybe remembered from somewhere?), but I feel there's a difference, in that one is a reflex and one is a skill. It's not a moral failing to lack a particular reflex, but if people are hurt because you aren't willing to understand what they're going through, that is a very bad thing.

Reflexive empathy is when you can't help but experience the situation another person is going through vicariously. It's an instant (or sometimes delayed) emotional response. It's something I've had to practice dealing with, because mine is hyperactive and it means being easily triggered by media, especially where innocent people get hurt.

Reflective empathy is when you consciously put yourself in another person's shoes. You may not be able to intuitively understand what they're going through, or have the same immediate reaction that someone who understands better would. But you can exercise your imagination, and listen in order to fill the gaps in your understanding.

I've learned not to get upset at people for not having the same kind of reflexive empathy I do. I know it doesn't mean they're bad people. If it's important for them to understand something, though, I do my best to explain so that they can imagine why it is distressing for me, or why it's a bad thing that shouldn't happen. And I get frustrated and angry when their identity defences kick in, and prevent them from empathizing.

There's a degree of choice there, I think. The choice to be willfully ignorant.

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