Les limites de l’empathie

L’empathie c’est bien mais ce n’est pas une panacée. On essaye de se mettre à la place de l’autre mais on y trouve surtout ce qu’il y a de plus de simi­laire àsoi, de plus émotion­nel­le­ment facile. Et tout ça quel but exac­te­ment ?

Petite synthèse d’ar­ticle lus à ce sujet.

Se mettre dans la peau des consom­ma­teurs, ça ne marche pas :

The more empa­thetic mana­gers were, the more they used their personal prefe­rences to predict what custo­mers would want. […] the more they ignored the market research on custo­mers that we provided them.

L’empathie n’est qu’une étape :

We needed distance — a psychic removal — in order to really assess the problem and take action to change it. […] Empathy will get you to see the problems from the users’ pers­pec­tive, but not the solu­tions.

Empathie signifie surtout empa­thie pour la clien­tèle, au risque d’ex­clure d’autres personnes :

Empathy for commer­cial ends is simply marke­ting. […]

Back to our coffee shop. Here’s a stan­dard solu­tion : Keep the bathroom door locked and require people to ask for a key avai­lable only to paying custo­mers. This solves a discrete problem for the coffee shop. After all, how can one busi­ness possibly take on an issue like inequa­lity or home­less­ness ? But it does more ; it acti­vely ignores the larger, systemic respon­si­bi­li­ties the busi­ness has to the commu­nity. By empa­thi­zing with one group of people, we neces­sa­rily exclude another. »

Les limites de l’empathie dans la réalité virtuelle :

All of this is to say that well-meaning VR empathy expe­riences might come with some hidden costs. One study shows that people who have expe­rienced some­thing them­selves can, in some cases, have less sympathy for those who are currently strug­gling with that same issue. This same study found that, for example, someone who had been bullied in the past was actually less empa­thetic towards a child being bullied than those who hadn’t been targeted before. Psychology resear­chers think that perhaps those who have managed to endure an expe­rience might see someone in the midst of it and essen­tially think : “I went through this, it wasn’t so bad, they should just suck it up.” If that theory is correct, then those of us who go through an expe­rience in VR might actually wind up feeling less compas­sion for people in real-world situa­tions. It wasn’t so bad when we went through it virtually, we might think, so why is this person complai­ning ?

What studies have found is that after, say, putting on a blind­fold and navi­ga­ting a room without sight, people do feel more warmly towards blind people. They feel more empa­thetic towards them. But they also develop nega­tive stereo­types to go along with this warm feeling. [In an expe­riment,] parti­ci­pants came out of the expe­riment with the belief that blind people are inca­pable of holding jobs or living alone, and that their lives are defined by misery. The subjects are so focused on their own struggles with trying to navi­gate that they assume that every blind person spends his or her days wallo­wing in this same state of frus­tra­tion and confu­sion.

L’empathie est comme la colère, une émotion brute à contrôler :

But I would worry about the irra­tional, arbi­trary, and self-destructive aspects of anger, so I wouldn’t wish that my child possess too much of it. And I would make sure to add plenty of intel­li­gence, concern for others, and self-control. I would want to ensure that anger is modi­fied, shaped, and directed by rational deli­be­ra­tion. It would occa­sio­nally spur action, but it would be subser­vient to the capa­ci­ties for ratio­na­lity and compas­sion. If we were all consti­tuted in this way, if we could all put anger in its place, ours would be a kinder and better world.

That is how we should think about empathy too.

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