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.