Synthesis Essay on Empathy


In a results-oriented world, some people believe that decisions should be made based on tasks that need to be accomplished, regardless of how affected people feel about the outcome. Human behavior scholars have opposed this view and contend that leaders who exhibit high emotional intelligence are more effective. As learned from Daniel Goleman, a Rutgers psychologist, emotional intelligence is an essential skill of an effective leader (Goleman; cited in Ovans 1). Much the same way with political leaders and parties who need to make decisions that impact other people’s lives, a great amount of emotional intelligence, especially including abilities to manifest empathy, would be more advantageous in making correct moral actions. In the debate on empathy as published in The New York Times, Jamil Zaki asserts that moral wisdom requires empathy; while Paul Bloom contends that empathy leads to short-sighted and unfair moral bias  (The Opinion Pages). One hereby argues that empathy actually increase the ability of opposing parties to understand each other better, or otherwise inform correct moral action.

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At the onset, Bloom’s definition of empathy is erroneous as he indicated that empathy is “the capacity to experience the feelings of others, and particularly others’ suffering” (The Opinion Pages par. 2). The actual definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others” (Oxford University Press 1). The capacity to experience and the ability to understand are two (2) different and distinct competencies. Bloom equated people who empathize, including helping professionals, as actually “feeling the suffering of others” (The Opinion Pages par. 6) – which is incorrect. A mother who learned that her child needs to rush through an urgent homework can empathize with her by not necessarily feeling similar emotions of panic or anxiety. Empathizing means understanding the manner by which other people feel various emotions, without necessarily actually feeling these emotions themselves. Helping professionals, especially doctors who empathize on the pain of patients understand how they feel and through empathy, they recommend interventions that would minimize these pain through informed and responsible rational assessment of alternative courses of actions. Nevertheless, the exhibited emotion (pain for instance) would be immediately addressed through to empathy.

Concurrently, according to Zaki, empathy assists in making rational decisions as he contended that “emotion and reason are also intertwined” (The Opinion Pages 1). In a situation where there is imminent danger, for instance, emotions assist in warding people off from the source of danger into safety. As such, opposing parties, for instance, could share heightened emotions due to supporting separate advocacies on issues being contended. The feeling of empathizing on the other party’s side would assist in understanding their perspectives. In the process, a more rational means to understand the opposing side through empathy would enable making a more responsible, ethical, and moral decision.

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In retrospect, people, especially leaders, who empathize with others are more effective in making responsibly viable decisions due to the ability to understand opposing perspectives through sharing the feelings of others. Empathizing means putting oneself in the shoes of others to understand how one could feel when given the opportunity to be in the other person’s context and situation. In sum, decisions made by leaders and people who exhibit high emotional intelligence skills, including the ability to empathize, are regarded as most viable for serving the best interests of all involved.

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  1. Goleman, Daniel. “What Makes a Leader?” 2004. Harvard Business Review. Web. 8 October 2017.
  2. Ovans, Andrea. “How Emotional Intelligence Became a Key Leadership Skill.” 28 April 2015. Harvard Business Review. Web. 8 October 2017.
  3. Oxford University Press. “Definition of empathy.” 2017. Web. 8 October 2017.
  4. The Opinion Pages. “Does Empathy Guide or Hinder Moral Action?” The New York Times 29 December 2016: 1. Web.
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