How open are you to viewing the world from a perspective opposite of your own?
For many people, other people’s personal issues are difficult to understand and relate with in a meaningful manner. This ability is known as empathy and in order to see and feel the issues of others one must be able to place themself in a perspective different than their own. Self-interest and self-centered perspectives can bar understanding the needs or issues of others making empathy a challenge.
The challenge of empathy is overcome not simply by listening but also by suspending belief. How can one possibly hope to help or even to understand another person’s problems if they cannot relate to that person’s situation. Trying to be open to viewing the world from a perspective opposite of your own is difficult especially in when you oppose either philosophically, religiously, or emotionally. This is not a lofty concept or conceptual argument as there are many concrete examples of this issue such as police who are constantly challenged by their perspective of victims according to their own beliefs which translates into either quality or poor detective work depending on their ability to empathize. Cases such as the 1970’s Ripper case in the UK which did not receive adequate attention from the public or police due to the lack of empathy for the prostitutes murdered by a serial killer.
How do we suspend belief to achieve empathy?
Much can be learned from good law enforcement officers because they practice empathy on a daily basis. A common theme amongst police is the idea that they speak for the victim — whoever they are and whatever their situation. In some sense, to suspend belief is to suspend moral judgment. What makes a prostitute’s life and right to live any less valuable than any other person? Whether you agree with the morality of a sex worker’s profession or not is not pertinent to the crime of murder committed against this person and their family.
Police don’t have to agree with a person’s lifestyle but they do need to empathize with victims in order to objectively pursue justice. The proof of this is evidenced by research conducted by the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation of the Baltimore Police Department,
Excerpt from the Justice Department’s 2016 Report
Awareness of the need for empathy does not create an empathetic person. Suspension of belief takes a great practice using active listening an introspection to identify biases. Identifying feelings of frustration and honest self-examination of that frustration can yield biases which can be resolved with effort. While empathy might seem necessary for law enforcement and other fields involving victims, the need for empathy extends far beyond law enforcement into all fields as it serves as the basis for providing appropriate and effective services.
Justice Department’s 2016 Investigation of the Baltimore Police Department http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/documents/local/us-justice-department-finds-discriminatory-practices-in-baltimore-police/2117/