There was a really thought provoking article in the UK newspaper The Observer recently on the topic of Empathy. I have written before about empathy but the premise of this article was that lack of empathy has a link with evil, or perhaps could be an alternative, more accurate definition for evil.
The article was written by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge. He is Director of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge. With those credentials, as you might expect, it’s well worth a read. (There is a link to the article at the end of this post).
The article was accompanied by a quiz to check out your empathy levels, which is 40 questions long. I have picked just ten of those questions below, which if you answer “strongly agree” suggests a high level of empathy, (you can take the full quiz on The Observer site)
- I can easily tell if someone wants to enter a conversation
- I am quick to spot if someone in a group is feeling awkward and uncomfortable
- I find it easy to put myself in someone else’s shoes
- I don’t tend to find to find social situations confusing
- I can tune into how someone else feels rapidly and intuitively
- I can usually appreciate the other person’s viewpoint, even if I don’t agree with it
- I can tell if someone is masking their true emotion
- I can sense if I am intruding, even if the other person doesn’t tell me
- I really enjoy caring for other people
- I can pick up quickly if someone says one thing but means another
Before writing this post I had a brief email exchange with Dr Baron-Cohen re my own bias that sometimes women’s empathy does not serve them well in senior positions, and is not valued. He replied that he agreed and referred me to his book on that topic, The Essential Difference (Amazon link), published in 2004. I’m not sure how that one passed me by but I’m about to read it. Look out for a review soon!
Meanwhile, what do you think? Are high levels of empathy incompatible with very senior management posts? What about senior politicians? Let me know your thoughts!
Posted on March 28th, 2011 by Jane