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December 29, 2010 9:16 AM   Subscribe

The Empathy Deficit: "A recent study finds a decline in empathy among young people in the U.S." In fact, the report concludes "empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years." Podcast on this topic here.
posted by saulgoodman (110 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Why should I care?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:18 AM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


I might care if it didn't cost $5.99 to read "the rest of the article" after the second page.
posted by beagle at 9:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


Huh, I was just thinking how the Internet has expanded my Personal Empathy Sphere, from more contacts to being able to see other people's POV more clearly and quickly. Aren't we (20ish) supposed to be the Boy Scout-Big Joiner generation or do I just hang out with freaks?
posted by The Whelk at 9:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


We are the Big Joiners of facebook causes and nothing more.
posted by The White Hat at 9:20 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


not that the internet is unique in this, one of the fuctions of fictions, one defense of narrative, is that it allows you to empathize, so see things from another view. One of the skills that should suffused through any decent narrative is a sense of empathy. The intern just makes it quicker and more frequent, with less fictionalized character (however you can onfine someone's online indenity as fictional)
posted by The Whelk at 9:22 AM on December 29, 2010


Kids today!
posted by Aizkolari at 9:24 AM on December 29, 2010


MetaFilter: do I just hang out with freaks?
posted by hippybear at 9:24 AM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


Huh, I was just thinking how the Internet has expanded my Personal Empathy Sphere, from more contacts to being able to see other people's POV more clearly and quickly. Aren't we (20ish) supposed to be the Boy Scout-Big Joiner generation or do I just hang out with freaks?

That was my impression as well.

The research, led by Sara H. Konrath of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and published online in August in Personality and Social Psychology Review, found that college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights, according to research by Jean M. Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University.

Well there's your problem.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:25 AM on December 29, 2010 [16 favorites]


Gee, I wonder if the lack of free time to do anything but toil has driven the lack of people joining PTAs, political parties and casual sports teams? I'm 26 and I seriously don't know anyone whose parents didn't work 60 hour weeks as they were growing up, much less give a shit about what Assemblyman Smith was doing outside of hassling them at the train station.
posted by griphus at 9:26 AM on December 29, 2010 [23 favorites]


A recent study finds a decline in empathy among young people in the U.S.

Cuz the USA kicks everyone's ass, amirite? USAUSAUSA!!!!
posted by Thorzdad at 9:27 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


One of the skills that should suffused through any decent narrative is a sense of empathy

The article notes:

Mar has also shown that adults who read less fiction report themselves to be less empathic.

Maybe we just don't read enough fiction anymore.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:28 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


...I think when they outsourced Iraqi prisoner "interrogations", something may have snapped.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:28 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


thsmchnekllsfascists makes a good point. It could be that people are just more aware of their character flaws than they used to be, and more ready to acknowledge them. They have certainly watched enough TV and movies with moral messages about the importance of empathy.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:29 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aren't we (20ish) supposed to be the Boy Scout-Big Joiner generation or do I just hang out with freaks?

I thought we were the latchkey kids.
posted by griphus at 9:30 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"In a recent study mice reacted more strongly to painful stimuli when they saw another mouse suffering, suggesting that they “share” the pain of their cage mates."

...people still getting money to do shit like this?
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:30 AM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Well there's your problem.

Except that the article also notes that previous studies have confirmed a strong correlation between people's self-reported feelings of empathy, and actual observable empathic behaviors. Note, in this study, people were asked to evaluate their own subjective feelings of empathy, not their impressions of others.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe this is something similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect:
The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled people make poor decisions and reach erroneous conclusions, but their incompetence denies them the metacognitive ability to realize their mistakes. The unskilled therefore suffer from illusory superiority, rating their own ability as above average, much higher than it actually is, while the highly skilled underrate their abilities, suffering from illusory inferiority. This leads to the situation in which less competent people rate their own ability higher than more competent people. It also explains why actual competence may weaken self-confidence.
If people who lack empathy view themselves as more empathetic, then an increase in empathy would result in the demonstrated decrease in self-perceived empathy.
posted by skymt at 9:36 AM on December 29, 2010 [26 favorites]


I wonder if the alleged decrease in empathy over the past 10 years among students is actually a result of our increased connectedness? We're really only capable of processing a limited number of stimuli at one time. The emotional states of other people are probably no exception to this rule. Social networking has definitely increased the Noise at the expense of the Signal. It provides a flood of data about everyone in our 'tribe' but it's challenging to turn that into something meaningful like empathy. We superficially know more about each other but it's arguable that we actually understand each other less as a result.

Oh, and don't forget reality tv. Familiarity breeds contempt in that regard.
posted by quadog at 9:37 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


The internet does allow you access to other points of view, but...

a) people tend to spend most of their time on sites that reinforce their preexisting beliefs.

b) the anonymous nature of the internet allows people on all sides of the political spectrum to say things they would probably never say to someone's face IRL. So everyone gets fighty, digs even deeper into their ideological trench, and believes the people on The Other Side are all irrational jerks.

c) In the past 30 years Americans have become more likely to live alone and less likely to join groups. See also: Bowling Alone. The internet is facilitating the job television started.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:37 AM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


Damn! I need to start faving people to show I care.
posted by srboisvert at 9:37 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


There. I just faved myself. Mission Accomplished!
posted by srboisvert at 9:38 AM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


I disagree.
posted by empath at 9:39 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


This would certainly explain how conservatism has been able to grab such a strong foothold.
posted by sswiller at 9:40 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


bonobothegreat : ...people still getting money to do shit like this?

What, science? Yes.
posted by Drexen at 9:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


But consider the context: From Wall Street to Gitmo, it seems to me the last two decades have offered reams of historical evidence to suggest there's something at least off in our capacity for empathizing with each other lately. This study might mean nothing, or it could be another piece of evidence in a pattern. To me, it seems likely to be the latter. That might be confirmation bias at work, but reality doesn't care either way.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:42 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"self reported empathy"
Maybe people are just getting more modest.
posted by DZack at 9:47 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980, with an especially steep drop in the past 10 years. To make matters worse, during this same period students’ self-reported narcissism has reached new heights

Maybe they're more honest, or feel less shame about it. Or maybe they're a bunch of self-congratulatory little know-it-alls who will never contribute anything to society but the blue glow from the cell phones as they text in restaurants, the little fuckers.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:50 AM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]


“The fact that empathy is declining means that there’s more fluidity to it than previously thought,” she says. “It means that empathy can change. It can go up.”

The empathetic penis defies hope.


.
posted by clavdivs at 9:53 AM on December 29, 2010


> Oh, and don't forget reality tv. Familiarity breeds contempt in that regard.

When I was up at my wife's parents' place for Christmas she channel-flipped across this show named Bridoplasty, and after about 20 minutes of that I was ready to nuke the site (and by "site" I mean "Earth") from orbit.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:54 AM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Would universal public healthcare have stood a better chance of passing forty years ago? Does the Gini coefficient correspond to empathy? It takes much more work to stay afloat now; used to be families could make a go of it on one income, now they can't.

I'd say that society overall has become less empathetic/fair.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:56 AM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'd say that society overall has become less empathetic/fair.

I can agree with that. I think that's probably a symptom of political change rather than the result of variations in an individuals sense of empathy though.

Although, on the other hand, we have been working pretty hard at a societal level to make things more equitable for minorities, so maybe it's just that re-adjustment that makes it seem to be less fair to us.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 10:03 AM on December 29, 2010


But consider the context: From Wall Street to Gitmo, it seems to me the last two decades have offered reams of historical evidence to suggest there's something at least off in our capacity for empathizing with each other lately.

Wait, was Wall Street not fucking slimy twenty years ago? Has there ever been a period in American history where big business wasn't dragging us all through the mud in order to make a quick buck? Is Gitmo somehow worse than what Americans were getting up to in Vietnam, or our own Civil War, or every massive atrocity that we dropped on the local native population?

I'm not saying that we're smelling like roses, these days, but it's hard to take a serious look at American history (or world history, for that matter) and say that we've somehow gotten worse.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 10:04 AM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


The whole 'self-reported' thing seems to make it complicated. Perhaps our standard for empathy has become higher and so our measure of ourselves has become more strict. It might also have to do with media and news and desensitization. I also think that the US education system breeds narcissism.
posted by aesacus at 10:08 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


From Wall Street to Gitmo,

yeah, but shit like that is not new by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, as horrible as Gitmo was/is, the numeric scale of habeas corpus violations was much lower than in WWII which was lower than during the Civil War.

If empathy in the US is in a serious long term decline we have to start looking at new variables, or variables that have grown stronger. In-general, as a whole, we are less connected to our neighborhoods and irl activities then we use to be, because of newer technologies, which seems like a reasonable starting point to explore weather or not it is the cause.

Personally, I think it is a form of desensitization brought about because of constant bombardment of "you-should-care-about-this". 24 hour news cycles, up to the second updates on everything bad, audacious or titillating. Both MTV and CNN started 30 years ago.

Blow up your T.V. throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try an find Jesus on your own

posted by edgeways at 10:09 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


Yeah, I don't know -- does it really say anything concrete regarding the psychological make-up of "kids today" that kids 30 years ago answered particular survey questions differently than they do today?

It seems like you could come up with any number of explanations for a variance. Maybe words mean subtly different things than they did 30 years ago. Maybe it's less socially acceptable to answer questions about yourself in flattering terms. Etc.

I just think "difference in how people answer survey questions about empathy" != "decline in empathy."
posted by eugenen at 10:11 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I wonder if empath will bother to show up here. That would be so eponysterical.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:18 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'd say that society overall has become less empathetic/fair.

I'm 50, and I can say without a doubt that this is true.

The situation most people find themselves in today is radically different than 35 years ago. Today, it is exceedingly rare that a family can live on one income. Union jobs and positions that offer any kind of respect and concern have been replaced by "at-will-employment". Pensions have been replaced by 401-ks - so not only does the job suck, now your future is entirely in your own hands and subject to the whims of the market-whores who'll sell our economy down the river to protect their 150 billion dollars worth of "bonuses". No one can get a raise because our companies now have to compete "globally" - never mind that record profits are going straight into the owners' back pockets. Meanwhile, for some fucking super-twisted reason, these record profits can't possibly be used to actually hire people.

It goes on and on. I am deeply, deeply ashamed of where we are and how we've gotten here. A groundswell of empathy for the average American is the only thing that can turn this around, I'm afraid.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [51 favorites]


We are the Big Joiners of facebook causes and nothing more.
Let's not sell ourselves short. We're big on magnetic ribbons and pink clothing on professional athletes, too. That's gotta count for a lot, right?
posted by spacewrench at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


"A recent study finds a decline in empathy among young people in the U.S."

College students are not a representative sample of their age cohort.
College students are not a representative sample of their age cohort.
College students are not a representative sample of their age cohort.
posted by enn at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [15 favorites]


Shit. If had bothered to read the comments...
posted by iamkimiam at 10:19 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Strictly anecdotal, but it does feel like empathy has gone down to me. I don't know how many times, when walking my very elderly, frail dog, I asked folks in their 20's or early 30's to please leash their large, exuberant dogs who were in danger of injuring my dog and was met with, "...but I want..." as an answer.

Empathy for people half way around the world? That's probably gone up, in part because it takes no effort, only knowledge. Empathy for people one lives with and around? Way down.
posted by QIbHom at 10:21 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


college students’ self-reported empathy has declined since 1980

See also: "Morning in America"
posted by gimonca at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe – and this is just an idea – feeling worse about your own prospects makes you less likely to feel bad for other people when they suffer. In 1980, we were in a "recession," but it was nothing like the malaise of the 2000s. Incomes were still trending up. Peoples' hometowns weren't yet derelict, destroyed by virtual slave labor in foreign countries. College education did not entail a $60k debt load.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:22 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


For better or worse, people used to get morality drummed into them at church, and we've lost that. Nothing has taken its place.

It's just an observation, I don't know what can be done.
posted by Trochanter at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have found there are few cures for empathy better than actually getting to know other people. I feel for them in the abstract; in the concrete, I tend to find them miserable.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:29 AM on December 29, 2010 [15 favorites]


I think this generation of kids is LOT more empathic than it was 30 years ago. I don't remember people in the 70' or 80's ever talking about empathy, the older folk were too coked out of their gourds and doing the disco thang.

My niece grew up hearing about Monica Lewinsky with jokey songs on the pop radio and all the confused cynicism of the late 80's. Now more kids know about being dragged into a bogus war in Iraq, suffer the effects of the national/global financial fiasco of 2008, the eye-opening of these WikiLeaks times.

Kids these days are incredibly more savvy about lots of things than they were. I love the kids these days, am awed by them in good ways. There's a lot of great caring and concern in spite of not being in dewy eyed innocent days.

It's much harder to be tender hearted with eyes more open to the corruption in the world. I think there are more kids now whose eyes are open, whose thinking process is skeptical, science based rational yet remain caring.
posted by nickyskye at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


For better or worse, people used to get morality drummed into them at church, and we've lost that.

Well, something is getting drummed in by Catholic priests.

The problem is unrealistic morality, that fake '50s type nuclear family image that never really existed. Those bright black and white colors hide the subtle grey's that exist in most of us. Through in the massive information available at our figure tips, most of it following the "If it bleeds, it leads" train of thought and it's no wonder that people decided to get off at some mental substation that bars having a lot of empathy.
posted by nomadicink at 10:34 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


For better or worse, people used to get morality drummed into them at church, and we've lost that. Nothing has taken its place.

It's just an observation, I don't know what can be done.


I'm actually pretty skeptical of the implied assertion that it takes an authoritarian force to instill morality/empathy into an individual/society.

From an anthropological pov it doesn't hold much water, and from a personal pov I know gobs of people who grew up sans church, or a strong authority drumming empathy (ha) into them who have nonetheless turned into "pillars of the community", with strong empathic responses. Modesty forbids me form actively putting myself in that category, but I'm at least in the ballpark.
posted by edgeways at 10:39 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Trochanter: For better or worse, people used to get morality drummed into them at church, and we've lost that. Nothing has taken its place.

It's just an observation, I don't know what can be done.


This still occurs for a lot of Americans, but I find that the people who have experienced this have less empathy than the rest, not more.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:41 AM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


When I was a kid in the 60s, my mom told me to eat all my food because "there are kids starving in China!" It never occurred to me to ask how she knew that and I never recall any mention of it in any other context. Starvation and disasters in foreign countries were not heavily reported in the news unless it was in the USSR (and denied by the Soviets, of course). Now kids have access to more information about the world than I could have imagined in 1965, are they simply overwhelmed by it all?

We sent used clothing and ballpoint pens to the "family back in Poland", I'm sure it didn't change the world but it was gratefully received. Perhaps that's what's missing now, that feedback that what you're doing is reaching someone rather than being gobbled up by some enormous "not for profit" that spends 60% of its donations on overhead.
posted by tommasz at 10:43 AM on December 29, 2010


It's much harder to be tender hearted with eyes more open to the corruption in the world. I think there are more kids now whose eyes are open, whose thinking process is skeptical, science based rational yet remain caring.

I agree with your general take on kids today. They are one of the more hopeful signs today.
My fear is that skepticism and awareness seem to morph so easily into cynicism and fatalism. Will today's kids change the world, or just have their mid-life crises at 30 instead of 50?
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:44 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


In the article, they note that self-reported empathy is correlated with actual empathy. They test these methods before using them.
posted by jb at 10:46 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, mine was a pretty liberal church. United Church. While we spent time learning the myth we also learned some empathy. Golden rule, Love thy neighbour as thyself, brotherhood of man, camels and eyes of needles, that kind of thing.

Hmmm... Obviously, "drummed into them" was a bad choice of words. How about "You at least spent small percentage of your week thinking about morality/empathy."

And despite the ways the Church was fucked up, you did have 2000 years of some smart people thinking about what it means to lead a good life.
posted by Trochanter at 10:49 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nothing a little empathogen can't take care of.
posted by DonnyMac at 10:50 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The study. As if you care.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:52 AM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


skymt: "Maybe this is something similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect"

This. If you're not aware of, say, the spectrum of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity, then it's easy to say that you're empathetic with everyone's straight feelings. The Internet makes you aware of all that diversity, and you simultaneously become aware of your own prejudices. Substitute race or any other marginalized class of people for the above.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:55 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It could be that people are just more aware of their character flaws than they used to be, and more ready to acknowledge them.

We are Millwall Americans, nobody likes us, we don't care.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 10:59 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Shit. If had bothered to read the comments...
posted by Eideteker at 11:01 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe we just don't read enough fiction anymore.

Not about the kids these days (oy! the kids! don't get me started), but on the connection between empathy and fiction-reading, as well as the political value of empathy, I've found Martha Nussbaum to be quite useful. Poetic Justice is a worthwhile read for those interested in these subjects.
posted by .kobayashi. at 11:04 AM on December 29, 2010


Trochanter: And despite the ways the Church was fucked up, you did have 2000 years of some smart people thinking about what it means to lead a good life.

And during the majority of those 2000 years, how good of a life did the average, run-of-the-mill peasant have?
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:06 AM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


For better or worse, people used to get morality drummed into them at church, and we've lost that. Nothing has taken its place.

Well, yes and no.

Religion in the US seems to be hell-bent on making sure that everyone believes that there is no source of morality (or empathy) outside of their belief system. They seem to have brainwashed a good majority of the population over the decades into a mindset which doesn't allow for moral development outside of church teachings. They denounce any efforts made to provide children with education in empathy and morals which don't contain the threat of an angry Jebus and eternal flames to keep behavior in line.

It's simply not true, however, that morality is the sole domain of religion. And a lot of school systems, at least at the elementary level, are engaging in broad programs to try to instill values in the students. The elementary school I worked at some years ago had the Character Counts program, which was a spiral curriculum which started in kindergarten trying to instill some basic ethics concepts. It seemed to be a successful program overall, but I have no idea how well it carried the students forward once they left that school.

I do remember more than one set of parents coming in to talk to teachers and administration about their outrage that the school was trying to take over the job of the church in teaching their children morals. These parents, to a single one, didn't bother to read the material or learn about the program before allowing their dander to rise. Nearly every one of them, once they were informed about the program, decided it was a good thing overall for their students. I do remember one 3rd Grader whose mother was so adamantly against the program, however, that her daughter had to sit in the hall and do busywork during the Character Counts lessons. I often wonder what lessons that was actually teaching her.
posted by hippybear at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2010 [11 favorites]


Mitrovarr, in my experience empathy and having a good life are completely unrelated.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:17 AM on December 29, 2010


It could be that people are just more aware of their character flaws than they used to be, and more ready to acknowledge them.

Except that the kind of self-reporting used wasn't nearly as simplistic as this whole line of thinking suggests and consisted in getting students responses to a number of well-known and very detailed psychological screens on empathy, not just asking them "So do you feel much empathy?" or something uselessly vague like that. Empathy is a complex capability with describable components. The screens are designed to look at empathy in terms of the constituent faculties that together make up the empathetic function. And they found deficiencies in several particular areas.
The Interpersonal Reactivity Index, a well-known questionnaire, taps empathy by asking whether responders agree to statements such as “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.”
And, from the linked abstract above:
Overall, the authors found changes in the most prototypically empathic subscales of the IRI: Empathic Concern was most sharply dropping, followed by Perspective Taking. The IRI Fantasy and Personal Distress subscales exhibited no changes over time.
Granted, self-reporting isn't without its problems, but how else can you study subjective phenomena like feelings?
posted by saulgoodman at 11:24 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't access the actual study but the self-reported aspect makes this pretty worthless. Further proof that in the social sciences one can publish any piece of rubbish whatsoever so long as it confirms people's opinions. And you can never go wrong trashing the young.
posted by LarryC at 11:26 AM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


And you can never go wrong trashing the young.

Why is that btw? I'm sick and tired of this "oh todays kids can't do x as well as we could".

It's like all the older generations were completely fine with fucking everything up, and now they're trying to demonize the people who are dealing with the repercussions. That's some grade-a bullshit right there.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:41 AM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]


(NOTE: I'm pretty sure most mefites aren't the sorts of people I just ranted against. Please don't be offended, you're cool in my book)
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 11:44 AM on December 29, 2010


can't access the actual study but the self-reported aspect makes this pretty worthless.

This is, of course, why all political polling fails, why it's a complete crapshoot as to who will win an election. Because it's self-reporting and therefore worthless. Somebody go tell Nate Silver he's barking up the wrong tree.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:47 AM on December 29, 2010


I don't understand all the weird value loaded language cropping up in criticism here (not reporting being empathetic out of "modesty," the study "trashing the young," etc.)

Empathy is a complex of pretty well understood neurological and emotional functions--a sort of mental skillset--not some vague moral virtue. If an unrelated study had found that increasing numbers of students self-reported not being able to distinguish the color blue from red when asked, would that result be, in effect, social science being used to trash the young?

Empathy is an adaptive function, not a moral virtue. Now, if we were talking about compassion, I might be able to understand these kinds of reactions. But empathy is more complex than simple compassion or pity. Empathy represents a whole range of mental abilities that allow us to understand other's motivations and intentions--not just the ability to feel sorry for people.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:48 AM on December 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


I have a 16 year daughter who is deeply lacking in empathy towards anyone, particularly her less well off classmates, which concerns me deeply. On Feb. 19 we are going to Kolkata where she will be doing a 10 day project in a friends' NGO that focuses on maternal and child health. Will this be a silver bullet that produces empathy, probably not, but I do believe that her world has to enlarge itself beyond her facebook friends and online shopping. This is one step towards that goal.
posted by Xurando at 11:50 AM on December 29, 2010


Mitrovarr, in my experience empathy and having a good life are completely unrelated.

I'd argue that quality of life might actually go down the more empathetic you are. There's some truth in the saying "Life is a comedy for those that think and a tragedy for those that feel."
posted by anti social order at 11:50 AM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Empathy is an adaptive function, not a moral virtue.

Fair enough. But can it be nurtured or its development be inhibited? If not, does this report indicate that empathy is being selected out of the species?
posted by Trochanter at 11:54 AM on December 29, 2010


Did they control for socioeconomic factors? If the study thirty years ago and the study today were both limited to college students, well, college students thirty years ago were way more likely to come from an upper class or upper middle class background, where saying flattering things about yourself is acceptable behaviour. It's been my experience that lower middle class people (who are more and more represented amongst college populations) are raised to be more self-effacing - to not "get above their raising" so to speak.

In the same period of time that we've supposedly lost so much empathy, homicide rates and other violent crime has also dropped dramatically - which you wouldn't expect, if we were really less empathetic. So I don't think we're less empathetic as a whole than we used to be.
posted by joannemerriam at 12:05 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This will make it that much more difficult to find the androids among us. It's not that the Nexus series is getting better, it's that Voigt-Kampff doesn't work on the humans anymore...
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 12:05 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing it has more to do with the urban-living-among-strangers lifestyle than anything else. Once-upon-a-time a lot of us lived in neigbourhoods or villages and perforce spent a lot of time helping others and being helped by others.

There were no day care centers so if the little kids needed looking after you looked for some woman whose hands weren't too full and appealed to her. Needed a fridge moved? The Bailey family has a couple of strapping young teenaged boys. How do I find out why my water tastes funny? I ask someone else who is on a well in the neighbourhood. There is an ambulance in the road? I'd better throw my coat on over my pajamas and go find out. It's Mr. Jones; he just died of a heart attack? I'd better head back home and start making casseroles for Mrs. Jones as the family is going to need tons of food over the next few days...

Nowadays there is a day care center for your toddler and you don't tend to feel any particular obligation to the woman that works there. I mean, she gets paid, right? And the only way you know who lives next door is if the mailman makes a mistake and you notice the name on the mail before you open it.

This interdependence was the training ground for empathy. You gave to your neighbours because you knew darn well that they were your only fall back when you needed help yourself. The system didn't always work and there were always people who got excluded and shunned and people who got taken advantage, and it encouraged valuing your own immediate social network over other groups, but it did mean that a lot of people spent a lot of time looking after other people and getting good at it.

Once-upon-a-time your six-year-old walked to school with his ten-year-old older sib, and that ten-year-old was in charge of looking after the six-year-old. How many older sibs are getting training now in supervising the younger sibs? I think they are all either glued to their own electronic baby sitters or in completely different age segregated after school activites. Socialization is learned by spending lots of time with other people, interacting with them in positive ways. It seems to me that little kids - and bigger kids are getting less and less of this.

For example, there is a huge difference in half a dozen kids aimlessly meeting in the field and deciding what to play -modified "baseball" since the only two balls are a small rubber one or a foot ball and no one has a bat, and Sheila's little sister will howl and tattle unless we let her follow Sheila around and have a turn with the ball- than there is when you get dropped off at pee wee league practice and the coach informs you that you are going to be pitcher. There is no negotiation, no accommodation, no way to practice for empathy or communication skills. Just go stand on the mound and wait for the game to start...

But I am not saying the past was the golden age. Once we stopped putting ten-year-olds in charge of walking to school with six-year-olds the number of kids killed while crossing streets went way, way, way down. And if you happened to live next door to the Domestic-Violence family your options used to be A. Intervene and maybe get the crap punched out of you too, or B. Don't intervene and come up with guilty justification for why Mrs. Roberts and the Roberts children all had it coming to them. The option C. Calling social services and ratting them out or D. Secretly mailing Mrs. Roberts information on Domestic Violence were not available. Method A. Community intervention is generally the best one, but not all communities did a good job at this, if for example Mr. Roberts was the local Big Business owner, or if Mrs. Roberts has pissed everyone off by being a nuisance drunk, or if the whole community was so hard up they couldn't afford to do anything.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:07 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


* It's a study. * It's "self-reported" empathy.

students today rate themselves as less empathic than the average student 30 years ago.

Students today don't know students from 30 years ago, so this statement refers to self-reported empathy. But how much of that is the result of the more powerful social constraints on how honest you could be? A study from the 50s-60s would report even more of this kind of "empathy". The result is that the results carry little weight.

I'll just point out that TENS of MILLIONS of people were being killed worldwide in the war-ravaged 1940s and uptight 1950s. How freaked out about that were people then? I conclude that real empathy is up in the only currency that matters - behavior.
posted by Twang at 12:16 PM on December 29, 2010


Why are you bothering me with this? Oh, wait, empathy is a good thing? Is there an app for it?
posted by sammyo at 12:20 PM on December 29, 2010


@nickyskye
I think there are more kids now whose eyes are open, whose thinking process is skeptical, science based rational yet remain caring.

Very well said, and that's my experience too. For one thing, they're a primary source of the changes in same-sex laws.
posted by Twang at 12:23 PM on December 29, 2010


Well, violent crime has decreased in the last !20 years, after peaking in '91, but it still is fairly high compared to the historic numbers, ~1973 is about the last time we had comparable rates, and prior to that it was. We've almost quadruple the violent crime rate of 1960. Now, the actual Homicide rate has improved dramatically in the last 30 years, and is actually about at 1960's levels.
posted by edgeways at 12:26 PM on December 29, 2010


Self promotion alert: I have co-written a book on this — Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential— and Endangered— and covered this study previously here.

While I do think that empathy has increased over the course of history (for example, torturing live cats or humans for entertainment is no longer acceptable in most of the world and some argue that if the Holocaust had been carried out at the rate that our early ancestors killed each other, the death toll would have been billions rather than millions), I think there are many things in the way we've set up American society now that do actually threaten it.

Empathy is like language-- an innate capacity that requires specific input in order to be learned properly. And we're giving little kids less and less of what they need to learn it— with less free play, less time with close family, more screen time [not always bad, just bad for littlest ones when it substitutes frequently for nurture rather than just used for keeping parents sane] and basically fewer opportunities to practice relational skills.

I was originally unconvinced by the studies showing an increase in narcissism and concommittant empathy decline because we've taught kids to say "I'm special" and I don't think people saying that more means anything. But when college kids don't even bother to "fake good" about kindness in this kind of research, that's pretty scary.
posted by Maias at 12:30 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Maybe – and this is just an idea – feeling worse about your own prospects makes you less likely to feel bad for other people when they suffer. In 1980, we were in a "recession," but it was nothing like the malaise of the 2000s. Incomes were still trending up. Peoples' hometowns weren't yet derelict, destroyed by virtual slave labor in foreign countries. College education did not entail a $60k debt load.

If memory serves me, we felt worse about our prospects from 1979-1982 than we had in say, 1959-1962, too. To say that 1980 was nothing like the malaise of the 2000s is statistically true -- the current recession is worse than the recession of 1981-1982, or if not, it's getting there.

But in July 1979, Jimmy Carter made the much-maligned "malaise speech." He said, among other things, "Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own. Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy." Sound familiar?

And Ronald Reagan's 1982 New Year's Message was full of exhortations to "believe in ourselves, in our country, and in tomorrow" despite acknowledging that the nation was "gripped by a recession brought on by decades of government mismanagement." Sound familiar?
posted by blucevalo at 12:34 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


It could be that people are just more aware of their character flaws than they used to be, and more ready to acknowledge them.

Or more willing to pay lip service to being aware of their character flaws, by way of attempting to sell everyone around them on how "charming" and "individual" said flaws are, like some narcissistic cast member of a twee indie movie. Not that that has any bearing on the results of this study—a lot of people here seem to be misinterpreting what "self-report" data means in this case—but that's happening, too.

There were no day care centers so if the little kids needed looking after you looked for some woman whose hands weren't too full and appealed to her. Needed a fridge moved? The Bailey family has a couple of strapping young teenaged boys. How do I find out why my water tastes funny? I ask someone else who is on a well in the neighbourhood. There is an ambulance in the road? I'd better throw my coat on over my pajamas and go find out. It's Mr. Jones; he just died of a heart attack? I'd better head back home and start making casseroles for Mrs. Jones as the family is going to need tons of food over the next few days...

I feel like this supposedly idyllic past you describe, Jane the Brown, was only possible because women largely didn't work. And even then, the teenage boys probably hated moving your fridge—they just knew they'd see the back of their father's hand if they complained too much aloud.
posted by limeonaire at 12:48 PM on December 29, 2010


I'm sick and tired of this "oh todays kids can't do x as well as we could".

Because when you get old that's all you have. That and embarrassing your children.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:03 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


So let me guess, the time when people had empathy and were awesome is the time when the researchers grew up, and the time when people suck is now.

Must be that damn internet/video games/tv/pool halls/drugs/texting/sexting/driving while sexting.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:15 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


You know, you could answer that yourself if you bothered to RTFA.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:16 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Empathy scales inversely to population: the more people you know are suffering, the less empathy you feel for any one individual?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:22 PM on December 29, 2010


I think the scaling thing is part of it; the size of the population makes individual people more of an abstract. But empathy is an abstraction, too, isn't it? It's the ability to mentally (at least) put yourself into someone else's shoes and ponder their situation more sympathetically.

I think the basic dog-eat-dog message of our economic system doesn't do much to help either. We've always had the church, and parents, and teachers, etc. to give us the countervailing message that empathy for your fellow inhabitants is important and necessary. Unfortunately, the economic "competition" mantra has become all too real for a lot of people these days. If you're too busy swimming and trying not to sink, your focus becomes a bit more about "me".
posted by Benny Andajetz at 1:32 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'd love to see the entire questionnaire.

“I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.”

The first is really something that could be explained by class segregation--people are marrying within their own socioeconomic class more often, among other things.

The second is a crazy individualistic thing that I personally don't really understand but seems par for the course in American culture. A denial that your decisions affect others and that their decisions affect you. Oddly enough, polyamory is a motivating factor in my increased rejection of the everyone-for-themselves American morality.

Oddly enough, I think that people my age are more likely to allow for others' freedoms because of the same individualism--if someone wants to smoke weed, get gay married, or get divorced, it's doesn't affect me and it's not my business. Why would I interfere?
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:55 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, you could answer that yourself if you bothered to RTFA.

I feel your pain.
posted by Trochanter at 1:55 PM on December 29, 2010


I don't think that time was idyllic, limeonaire, and I tried to express that in my post.

Like I said, kids got training in empathy by being stuck in charge of their siblings and the result was that more kids died in traffic than they do now. That is not so idyllic...

My guess is that we were more empathetic in the past to people we considered like us -neighbours, or family, or village members, or fellow church members, -and less empathetic to people we considered not like us - a gay couple living in our village, people with a different skin colour, people who had different accents, Commies, Hippies, whatever.

Part of the reason for the interdependence in the past was the scarcity of options. You had to do this stuff. I'm sure often people did NOT want to. I'm not saying that women were all happy that if they worked they couldn't get high enough wages to support themselves on, or that teenaged boys and older siblings were glad to be ordered to do the work. Yet that is part of empathy. Do you really want to wipe your younger sibs' snotty nose? Ewww? But you do it anyway. Do you really want to blow your lunch money on buying lunch for someone hungrier that you? No, and your low blood sugar headache during the afternoon the day you do will remind you that empathy is not an entirely wonderful experience. Have you ever cried when you saw a traffic accident and saw someone was hurt and stopped to help and been yelled at for being late for work? It makes for a more fun day to be able to shrug, comment that the cops had better get there soon, and drive on without a backward thought. But to do so is not empathetic behaviour.

There is some study out there -probably not reproducible and probably spurious - that shows that when we do something good for another person we feel more empathy for them after wards. That's the funny thing about empathy. Feeding that homeless person might give you a low blood sugar headache, but it also means that you will later feel less threatened and less hostile towards that person, and other people you equate with them. (Assuming any truth to that study I mention, but can't site.) Instead of thinking "Just another grubby nutcase on the street," when you see the homeless person you bought lunch for back in November you tend to think, "Ah, there is my homeless guy. Hope he's doing alright..."

I am inclined to feel that the current era is better for me than the past one - I dearly do love epidurals, day care, gay rights, on-line support groups, minimum wage, the explosion of information available to me and myriad other luxuries I have benefited from. But the times were different, and debating if they were better or not is a red herring.

The university undergraduates in the study are making the best adaption to the society they live in that they can. If there were a benefit to them to be more empathetic, they would be. If they are not as empathetic the reason must be that empathy doesn't provide what it used to. We can't turn back the clock and go back to "a more empathetic era". We may or may not go forward into a different, more empathetic era than the current one. Since I've got absolutely no power, I can't make our society change to be the way I want it to be, but I can certainly act the way I want to. And that sometimes means getting my hands dirty and being breathed on by a drunk and going hungry, and sometimes it means delegating something to a faceless and monolithic society that can and will give help better than I can.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


palindromer, I was going to say something along those lines. I guess I'll just have to join with Mercer to get over my feelings of despair.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:48 PM on December 29, 2010


I know several teenagers and 20 somethings who, being empathic towards the suffering of animals and other creatures, are experimenting with being vegans or vegetarians. Certainly many of them will return to meat eating but still and I am very encouraged by their willingness to consider the suffering of others.
posted by chance at 5:20 PM on December 29, 2010


Here's a drive by thought. I actually think that the lack of empathy is thing. And I think it's spot on. But if I was to explain my anecdata I'd be called a racist or an ageist or something elsist.

Youth today, oh ghod did I say that? Younger people today are assholes. And I don't say that from a very old people position.

I say that from a position as a rider of the NYC subway. When a a 13 or 14 year old girl is screaming about how she sucked her boyfriend's dick earlier and he slapped her and sent her home, but she still has his come on her chin.

When my wife is forced to watch a snowball fight on the last car of the F train. And when she is hit on the head with said snowball. And she stands up and is told by a kid to "sit the fuck down nigger" and she has to get off the train to avoid a fight.

That's when I think that the world is fucked.

There is no respect and there is only strenght and anger .
posted by Splunge at 6:26 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Splunge: If you don't want to deal with so many assholes, move out of New York. The rest of the country is much nicer.

(offer not valid Los Angeles, Boston, New Jersey, Washington D.C., or Connecticut)
posted by leotrotsky at 7:02 PM on December 29, 2010


Meh.

Oh hang, on that's apathy. What was the question again?
posted by arcticseal at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I kind of wish I suffered from a deficit of empathy myself sometimes. Not infrequently as I've gotten older, I've found myself experiencing an excess of empathy--particularly, for people not in my immediate social sphere--that can be quite physically and psychologically painful. It's something I've struggled with, actually, that's contributed to a not insignificant amount of pain and frustration in my personal life. Not sure if I look forward to the prospect of living in an empathy-free future, though, if there's anything to these and similar findings.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:59 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


leotrotsky: "Splunge: If you don't want to deal with so many assholes, move out of New York. The rest of the country is much nicer.

(offer not valid Los Angeles, Boston, New Jersey, Washington D.C., or Connecticut
"

Well thanks for that I'm moving right now. Your perceptive comment has cleared up my problem. Damn you are good. Hope you have a home and a job for me, bro..
posted by Splunge at 9:01 PM on December 29, 2010


Finally! After years of lurking, this is the post that made me register. I agree that there is an empathy deficit among the youth in this country. I believe that it is the direct result of the education system's whole "Every one of you is special and unique" campaign. There is such a sense of entitlement in the younger generations. You can see it on those horrible reality shows, when some 20something screams about no one caring about "my feelings!", or those white trash Bridezillas who scream "I am the Bride, it is my day, and you have to do what I want!". Since when does the rest of the world stop rotating because you are getting married? But the look on their faces is priceless when they realize that the florist sent the wrong flowers, or whatever other "tragedy" occurs. I have seen some of the most outrageous displays of "Me, Me, Me" in restaurants, shopping malls, even Starbucks, when one of these self entitled little darlings starts to feel that the spotlight of the universe has failed to shine on them at any given moment. How can we expect empathy from such self-important little drama queens (and kings). Now, I moved through the school system just before this started, and there is a definite difference in between these two groups, and it has nothing to do with saying "those damned kids don't appreciate what they have". It is a genuine phenomenon. I have seen the dividing line between 2 siblings. Maybe my position is unique. But I do not think this is one of those "everything was better in the old days" kind of things. Of course, I am not painting whole generations with this brush. Nor am I saying that building self esteem is wrong. But I think self esteem has been confused with self entitlement. I think unqualified educators have been asked to implement a generation wide psychological experiment, and it has failed miserably. You can not reward someone for just breathing. There has to be an accomplishment, in order to receive a reward. Otherwise you breed narcissism, and self entitlement, and you kill empathy. Wow, my first post, and it is huge! I should be rewarded for sharing my enlightened position with all of you! (sarcasm)
posted by MJLavelle at 10:08 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


One other thing to look at is newspaper comments. They are very near and dear to my heart as they are My Thing. Newspaper comments, for all the talk about them, provide a very clear view into an America we pretend doesn't exist, one that often has a cold, cold heart. Certainly newspapers would like to pretend they didn't exist. It must have been a more satisfying service to provide before you had AngryMan322 telling them how much their story sucks and the big problem in this country is welfare cheats and Nobama.

When I read them, and I do,hundreds, every day, because as I said, it's my thing, I'm struck by how much terror is behind those comments. How much fear and insecurity is behind the worst of them. And how bereft so many comments are of basic empathy for victims of tragedy, in particular, a lack of compassion for people whose children have died in accidents.

I think are two things at work. One, when you scorn an accident victim and their circumstances (Well, her mother should never have let her out of the house! Driving at 11 at night on a school night--what an idiot.) you're reassuring yourself that thanks to your singularly impeccable decision making, such a thing could never happen in your family.

The other channel of ick in comments is Those People. In the community closest to me, that is because Those People recently moved here and there's a perception they're getting a free ride. That's not true; I'm sure they're working really hard. But because we live in such terribly insecure times financially and culturally people operate more often than not from a standpoint of greediness and fear and jealousy. They believe their piece of the pie is diminishing, and it's true, but it's not because of their neighbors, it's because of awkward and hard things to explain like the banking system and the housing bubble and running multiple wars.

Basically I think a lot of people are angry nervous wrecks and it makes them act like assholes when they get together under a warm anonymous blanket with a lot of other angry nervous wrecks.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 11:04 PM on December 29, 2010 [8 favorites]


MJlavelle: welcome!

I think everyone is getting a bit bent out of shape over this. I seriously doubt that kids are getting less empathetic, and narcissism is a pretty vague thing to charge a whole generation with.

As far as reality shows go, I'm pretty sure that they're caricatures of my generation that MTV and VH1 creates so that older folks can sit around and say things like: "Tut-tut, things were so much better when I was young, the world is certainly going straight to hell".

Nearly all of the young people I know—which is a considerable number—aren't even doing things like getting married, mostly because they can't afford it. 100% of my group of friends has a shitty job and is living hand to mouth to pay down their debt.

It's not that young people are less empathetic than their elders. Society has become less empathetic to us, and we're trying to deal with it the best we can.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 7:11 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not that young people are less empathetic than their elders. Society has become less empathetic to us, and we're trying to deal with it the best we can.

that's pretty rich coming from the most coddled generation to walk the earth. speaking as a curmudgeonly gen-xer, i can say "welcome to the party, pal."
posted by entropicamericana at 8:48 AM on December 30, 2010


that's pretty rich coming from the most coddled generation to walk the earth. speaking as a curmudgeonly gen-xer, i can say "welcome to the party, pal."

WHUT?

Also, most of the coddling was more affluent suburb dwellers. Regardless of how we grew up, we're headed into an unarguably fucked up situation built by the people who "coddled" us. How is that rich? You guys got the last of the cheap college and decent-paying jobs.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:59 AM on December 30, 2010


You guys got the last of the cheap college and decent-paying jobs.

Tell that to my bank account and my student loan officer.

Don't worry, Mom & Dad Boomer will retire soon, hand off their wealth and jobs to their beloved Gen-Y children, and give the Xers one last royal screwing before shuffling off this mortal coil.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:14 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh, my boomer dad is broke as hell too. VOTE POVERTY FOR EVERYONE 2012. I'm done with this derail, sorry to have started it.

I still think this study is flawed at best.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:20 AM on December 30, 2010


Vote for me, Lord Humongous Of The Outerlands, and I promise not to set your camp on fire.
posted by The Whelk at 9:23 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have good reason to suspect my opponent, Lewy Clark Noposionwells does, in fact, posion wells.
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


@thsmchnekllsfascists - I agree that my use of reality shows was perhaps not the best example, but it is a place where you can see this behavior on a grand scale. I can assure you though, these shows are not being watched predominatey by older people, so they can berate the "stupid kids". As I mentioned, I have seen this behavior in real life. I also said that I did ot want to paint an entire generation with the same brush. I know tha there are plenty of hard working individuals that are not going through life with an overblown sense of self entitlement. Your example of 100% of your friends working hard to pay down their college debt is fine, but honestly, it is not a great example. It would not be unusual for you to associate with people with values similar to yours. Your comments about "shitty jobs" and "society has become less empathetic to us" sort of makes my point. I have seen far too many college grads that complain when they can't find a job in their field. But that is a normal thing. Almost everyone has had to work crappy jobs before finding a good one. A college degree does not guarantee a good job immediately. And your self entitled peers are making this situation worse. There are huge numbers of news stories available that describe how employers are hesitant to hire younger people because of their poor manners, bad customer service skills, bad work ethic, and even their ability to dress properly. All of this comes from this overblown sense of self entitlement, and lack of empathy. As far as society being less empathetic towards young people, that statement alone shows a degree of self entitlement. What are we supposed to be empathetic about? Because you went to college, and aren't working in your field? That is just the economy. Millions of people are not working in their field, including me. But I do not expect any sort of societal empathy for that. If you want some solid evidence that the entitlement is out of control in younger people, just look at the credit card debt in this country. The overwhelming majority of these cards are issued to people under 35. Why? Because, unlike their parents, they are unwilling to wait to purchase the nicer things in life. The number of cards issued to college students is unbelievable. Why? Because, why should they have to live with a little TV, and go home for spring break? They can have it now, and pay later. I can assure you, it did not used to be like that. Perhaps you are not one of these types of young people, but I can assure you that you are in a minority. Can you honestly tell me that you do not see people your age running around in cars, watching TV's, and wearing clothes that they have not paid for? That behavior is not new, but it is far more widespread than any other time in history. And that is because of the "I deserve it" attitude, which leads directly to a lack of empathy for their fellow man.
posted by MJLavelle at 4:03 AM on December 31, 2010


There are huge numbers of news stories available that describe how employers are hesitant to hire younger people because of their poor manners, bad customer service skills, bad work ethic, and even their ability to dress properly.

Huge? Let's see five from sources that aren't blogs, News Corp subsidiaries or newspapers for towns with a population of seven.
posted by griphus at 7:45 AM on December 31, 2010 [1 favorite]


...you know what? Scratch that. Let's see one that isn't an op-ed and cites some real statistics outside interviewing Hank to the Octogenarian Hardware Store Owner.
posted by griphus at 7:48 AM on December 31, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm seeing a lack of intergenerational empathy here.
posted by Trochanter at 9:09 AM on December 31, 2010


As far as society being less empathetic towards young people, that statement alone shows a degree of self entitlement. What are we supposed to be empathetic about? Because you went to college, and aren't working in your field?

What? It has nothing to do with that. I don't care if I personally can't get a good job. I'm concerned that the workforce is slowly becoming dominated with service jobs, and those jobs are being filled by my peers. There are barely any jobs that young people can possibly get that pay a living wage.

As far as thinking that we should get decent jobs because we went to college, isn't that fucking point of going? Most took on 70,000 dollars of debt because everybody told us that we'd get out of college and at least be making around 30,000 dollars. Pointing out that we were lied to isn't entitlement, it's grumbling because the reality is that most of us are going to be debt-slaves until we die.

It's got nothing to do about working in our fields, and a lot more to do about being able to afford a basic standard of living. If you seriously believe that expecting a living wage for everyone in the workforce is some sense of entitlement, it seems extremely hypocritical to call us out for lacking empathy.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:13 AM on December 31, 2010 [3 favorites]


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