Empathy and apathy, reactions of the new normal


“You have to put yourself in the place of the other.” Since Wuhan entered our lives, this expression became almost everyday. It is used to reinforce the idea that taking care of yourself is taking care of others, to promote solidarity or to insist that fed up affects everyone equally. This phrase more or less accurately defines the “empathy“A term that, by necessity, is fashionable. The American poet Walt Whitman put it this way when referring to human suffering: “I don’t ask the injured person how they feel. I myself become the injured person.”

One of the phenomena that we are trying to reflect every week is how words that belonged to a specific field gained prominence in public conversation and they became the heritage of all speakers. At this time, many began to distinguish the difference between medical concepts such as “virus” and “bacteria” or “epidemic” and “pandemic.” In the same way, terms such as “resilience” and “empathy” – typical of psychology – are repeated in the story to enter the new normal.

The “pathos” above all

To understand “empathy” and “apathy”, psychology resorts to this notion that goes back to Ancient Greece. Aristotle in his Poetics, used the term “pathos” to identify the emotional force that arose from the character of the classical tragedy and reached the viewer to provoke in him a cathartic effect. “Passion”, “emotion” are the usual translations to name this feeling that arises in someone and is projected on another. “Build empathy”, the chosen verb reflects that process: an element that starts from the emitter generates a reaction in the other.

In ancient times, in the face of so much overflow of passions promoted by the Greek tragedy and the Dionysian banquets, apathy was valued …

Leaving aside the lineage, we can stop at the formation of the term. To the concept of “pathos”A prefix is ​​added “Em-” which means “inside”. Thus, this “putting yourself in the other’s place” is better understood. In the dictionary, the definition of “empathy” confirms this idea of ​​sharing emotion: “It is the affective participation of one person in one reality of another, the intention of experiencing what another individual feels”.

Pathos – understood as that which goes from passion to suffering through experience – is present in other words. In all cases, what changes is a compositional element. Sympathy, telepathy and apathy are some examples.

Apathy or the absence of pathos

An easy way to understand how the language works is to think of it as a Mecano, a Rasti or a Playmobil, it depends on the age group that you read. We are putting pieces together and we are building meaning. In the same way that psychology highlights “resilience” and “empathy” as positive attitudes in the face of the pandemic, it also lights up the alerts when referring to lack of interest and discouragement that causes uncertainty. To identify it, he resorts to the idea of ​​”apathy”. Here also appears an element that adds to the notion of “pathos.” The prefix “a-” indicates lack, deprivation, absence: amoral, asymptomatic, asymmetric. By adding it, we invalidate the concept that comes after. By definition, apathy is understood as a lack of emotion, motivation or enthusiasm.

However, it should be noted how what today is an alarm signal was interpreted differently at another time in history. This “non-emotion” that at this time is considered an alarm, did not always have this negative character. In antiquity, in the face of so much overflow of passions promoted by the Greek tragedy and the Dionysian banquets, apathy was valued by Stoic philosophers as an example of self-control that favored the path to happiness.