Apathy, Empathy, and Sympathy: The Emotions of Ruination

Of all the titles I have been branded as a professional, one that holds the most truth is that I am heartless.  I do not share your emotional choices; thus, to you, I am heartless, and I will not invest my time to dissuade you otherwise.  Emotional outbursts have somehow become popular, and it is my intent to reduce the amount of emotional blather found in the workplace, as an extension of real emotional intelligence.

Empathy v ApathyApathy is all about a lack of enthused concern.  Being apathetic is a choice to show no concern, emotional connection to an issue, or interest.  The choice to be apathetic is personal and does not indicate that a person is heartless; simply, that the person being apathetic is making different choices where emotion is concerned on a topic.

Empathy, of all the emotional pitfalls empathy, is the most devious of the emotional tools on this list.  Empathy is all about acting like you understand the emotions of another person, and you have a personal desire to share in those emotions.  Empathy is fake; empathy is a choice one exercises in an attempt to control a person or situation through emotion.  Being empathetic is a skill set learned as a manner of defense or, for the more nefarious, to control others.  Empathy is nothing more than faking concern, justifying the emoter’s emotional responses.

Sympathy is a process of coming to a common feeling.  The emotional pathway journeyed by people or groups, to feel the same sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.  Sympathy is the most dangerous of the emotional tools on this list, not for the one experiencing the sorrow or misfortune, but for those who jump in with the person feeling the sorrow or experiencing misfortune.  Understand, the sympathetic person attracts other sympathetic people, like moths to a flame, or lemmings to a cliff.

Sympathy v Empathy v ApathyHere is the problem with all three emotional tools above, they are emotional responses to external situations.  Jean-Paul Sartre is quoted thus:

For the idea which I have never ceased to develop is that in the end one is always responsible for what is made of one.  Even if one can do nothing else besides assume this responsibility.”

Robert Solomon made Sartre’s quote above more meaningful when a person considers that, “Emotions involve social narratives as well as physical responses, and an analysis of emotions is an account of our being-in-the-world.”  The freedom to “make of one” does not include showing no emotion, nor does it mean that one must partake of every emotional current that swirls and eddies around a person during a typical day.  Solomon continued by empathetically stating, and supporting that, “Emotions are not occurrences and do not happen to us… emotions are rational and purposive rather than irrational and disruptive, are very much like actions, and that we choose an emotion as we choose a course of action” [Emphasis mine].

Therein is the crux of the entire argument, the summum bonum (the ultimate goal according to which values and priorities are established in an ethical system) if you will where apathy, empathy, and sympathy are concerned; emotions are as easily selected.  Emotions are as purposefully chosen as the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and every other course of action undertaken.  Emotional selection is always cognitive, and represents a system of beliefs and personal desires, which includes appetites, hopes, expectations of reward, behavioral standard programming, and has as a core an object to emote about.

Girls ListeningConsider the announcement that someone’s cat has died.  What does society say one should do in this situation; take visual cues and match the emotions of the person whose cat died to the environmental situation, and respond in a similar manner.  Feel sad the cat died; why it was not your cat that died.  What if the owner is feeling relief because the cat had suffered from health or physical defects; do we still emote sadness?  What if the owner inherited the cat and is relieved they never have to clean the cat box again, step in wet hairballs, or take as much allergy medicine; do we emote sadness when the owner emotes joy?  Thus, one can more easily see, and understand that emotions are a choice, and empathy and sympathy are emotional traps.

Carrying the dead cat analogy one step further, what if the owner is only reporting their cat died to gain attention?  Emotional responses from others in the social environment feed the control this person now has over the group.  If the cat owner reporting a cat has died uses the situation to get out of mundane tasks, is this acceptable, warranted, or allowed; if so, the control through emotional responses is complete, and the behavior will repeat.  Hence the danger and deviousness of empathy and sympathy as emotional tools in social settings.  Solomon reports on this topic that the cognitive nature of emotions allows for pride to remain intact.  Thus, we conclude that emotions are formed around beliefs and judgments, just like the atomic particle must have neutrons, protons, and electrons.

By comparing emotional creation to the atomic particle, it is not reducing the human emotion to a mathematical formula, nor does it demean any true emotional response to a situation.  The comparison is simply acknowledging the complex nature and elements that are required when the emotion is selected.

Pride 2Pride, is an interesting element of emotional response and centers around self-elevation and enmity (being actively opposed or hostile to someone). The proud person will say, I am better than someone else and be violently opposed to any influencers who are perceived to threaten the superiority of the person emoting pride.  The proud person will always use emotions as a tool for controlling others, which is one of the most compelling arguments against the current business fad, emotional intelligence.  Pride, with its underlying core of enmity, is the root of the common conception of, and popularity for, emotional intelligence. Real emotional intelligence recognizes the cognitive, judgmental, and social aspects of emotions, and works to control oneself.

My best friend has no appreciation for jokes, puns, wordplay, etc.; in fact, my best friend has such an interesting sense of humor, one can often ask why they laughed and receive a logical and cognitively reasoned response.  Yet, my best friend has never been called heartless, unemotional, or the reverse emotional, apathetic, empathetic, or sympathetic.  People interact with my friend and always leave knowing they were listened to, cared for, and appreciated for the good they perform in the world.  My friend has spoken with governors and politicians, homeless people, the sick and afflicted, the whole and happy, and all are treated equally.  How does my friend do this; buy not taking the easy road of emotional connection, but forming a truer relationship through logic, as a cognitive choice.

CourageConsider the anger people chose over the death of Rayshard Brooks earlier this year in Georgia.  Many people chose to be angry and then expressed that anger in burning down a Wendy’s restaurant franchise, rioting, lootings, clogging traffic, stopping commerce, and other actions considered acceptable expressions of anger by the media who reported the events.

In no specific order, the following must be recognized in the Rayshard Brooks event.  First, the expressions of anger were chosen and were considered acceptable by a third party in a social environment.  Second, the actions (visible signs of anger) were an outward display of an inner emotion that was also chosen cognitively as a response to a situation (Rayshard Brooks being shot).  Third, the third-party involved, the media, expected to see these types of actions to justify their time in reporting the incident.  By being a vocal third-party, cheerleaders, if you will, the third-party fed the expected response.  This accelerated and expanded the violence and other deprivations, the same as what occurs in any sports contest where fans are invited to watch and participate vicariously through cheering their team on.

The problem with using my friend’s pattern of living, where the same anger could have been communicated but without all the violence, looting, theft, destruction of private property, and a better community would have ensued, is that of control.  The media would not have reported this event because they could not be a vocal and invested third-party feeding the emotional actions and receiving a return on their investment of time and other resources.  Thus, added to the emotional atomic particle analogy, are the elements of social acceptance, social expectation, and a vocal third-party to justify the actions taken in the name of the emotion granting those actions acceptability.

On a smaller, and thus more socially acceptable scale, the same can be witnessed every day, where the justification for emotional responses, is granted by a third-party expressing sympathy or empathy for those emoting.  Leading to a question, what does the third-party gain from justifying another person’s emotional responses; the power to control.  The emoting person will return to the third-party for justification after each emotional outburst for approval until the third-party deems the actions are no longer acceptable at that given period.

Emotional OutburstFurther emotional outbursts and increased levels of emotional criminology might occur later.  Still, at the moment, those actions have reached the limit of justification and the emoter will choose differently to gain favor and approval from the third-party.  As witnessed in the Missouri riots that spawned the political group “Black Lives Matter (BLM).”  Further, the third-party that controls the justification can turn-on and turn-off those emoting at will, by telling them how they should be responding to a given situation.  The third-party possesses considerable power through the justification of emotional outbursts, the same influence as exerted by an owner or a league over a sports team.

Thus, the paths and dangers of emotion.  Hence one can see the connections between emotions as a choice, a judgment, and a tool.  The sword of emotions is more dangerous to the wielder than to those affected by the emotional outburst, for those wielding emotions are never free of the control-justification cycle, and will remain subservient until they individually cognitively choose different emotions and emotional responses to social situations.

The danger in America right now is that of a vocal and invested third-party, and the justified actions of the minority by the third-party for political ends.  The overabundance of emotions, emotional responses, which include apathy, empathy, and sympathy, and the deprecation of logic and reasoned responses, are doing significant harm to the society called America.  Too much emotion is driving road rage incidents, mobs, destruction of private property, looting, theft, and so much more.  The solution is two-fold, not in any particular order of priority:

  1. Hold the vocal third-party accountable for the actions their minions are taking.
  2. Recognize the cognitive power in choosing emotional responses differently as an individual.

America can heal from these events and be stronger for it, provided we first capture our emotional responses, and eradicate the cheerleading section who grants justification for emotional outbursts not tolerated in children.

Not Passion's Slave - Emotions and ChoiceFor more on the connection between emotion and choice, please read Solomon’s book, “Not Passion’s Slave: Emotions and Choice.”  It is a masterpiece of logic and aids the cognitive person in choosing their emotions more purposefully and intentionally.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.
All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/.

Published by

msalis1

Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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