Why is compassion disappearing?


Duncan Schaffer

The world is becoming noticeably less empathetic with time. People have taken to the streets to protest for a change in our world today.

Whenever someone is struggling or hurting, they want to feel surrounded by support and understanding. But recently, a sense of empathy and support feels less than adequate. It seems since the Covid-19 pandemic, the decline in empathy has become increasingly more noticeable. There is a growing concern in the decline of empathy in society today. Audrey Cassidy, a mother of a student at Cathedral, explains that “It’s difficult walking down the street and saying hello to someone and they look at you like you’re doing something wrong.” A study by the University of Michigan found that college students today are showing a 40% decline in empathy compared to previous decades (CHCP). Another study found a decline of empathy among young people from 1979 to 2009. (Dr. Sara Konrath, the scientist behind the study, is an associate professor of philanthropic studies at Indiana University, and director of an Interdisciplinary Program on Empathy and Altruism Research.)
Empathy isn’t a simple choice of kindness, you isn’t a simple choice to be kind or not, there are two components to it, cognitive and emotional. Both must be present to be empathetic. Cognitive empathy is the part of us that understands and drives us to recognize other people’s thoughts and feelings. Emotional empathy is our reaction to others thoughts and feelings, and our appropriate response.

Then, there are people who are capable of recognizing someone is in pain, but lack appropriate responses, much like a psychopath. Only when empathy erodes will humans become cruel.

Humans can be cruel for a variety of reasons, some which include genetics, hormones, Borderline Personality Disorder, or their cultural roots. But, our topic today is mainly focused on why in our current society are people choosing to be cruel? The things listed above are simply things people cannot help. I’m talking about universal choice. Why not say thank you to someone who held the door open? Why shame someone who knows they made a mistake?

Social networking has been an outlet for those who can’t always reach out to those they love when they need to. Though it has become a pillar of our society, we rely too much on it. People aren’t interacting face to face anymore, people are bold and themselves on the internet but hide their true selves in person. We are losing our sense of selves and empathy in the process. Our simple social skills of reading social skills and reading others’ faces is fading. With the development of the internet people are lacking their developmental skills of empathy. With this and the internets easily accessible anonymity, people are free to be as cruel as they want without consequence and we see this reflect in their in person selves.
With the divided state of politics in our society we see the lack of empathy everyday. Everyone is so indifferent, the separation between liberals and conservatives seemed to have brought us to a place of hate. Political groups yelling at each other because of a Biden car sticker, or wearing a mask in 2023, or having an American flag that supports our police officers. It’s gone too far, where is the empathy, the respect we used to have for eachother. A belief is a belief it’s not the whole person, and people need to stop treating each other like their beliefs are them as a person. The fact that a recent Gallup poll showed that roughly a third of the country doesn’t think there’s a problem with race relations suggests that many people aren’t grasping other people’s perspectives. (Scientific American)

The modernized world has stripped away the simplest human actions, like grocery shopping or joining a recreational sports league and replaced it with online alternatives. Which results in thinning, tribal, and anonymous human interactions with one another.

Chaos in the news has become a regular thing for most, we turn on our phones, laptops, and televisions each morning when we wake up expecting a tragedy, and worst of all most days we receive one. With this “news fatigue” develops.
Stress can commonly hijack our empathy. A stress response causes our brain to be blind to our surroundings. It is hard nowadays to turn away the stress, especially with the media constantly informing us of tragedies. Emotional fatigue can develop due to this stress response. Shutting down your ability to empathize with others because you are just too emotionally spent. Symptoms of this include, a sense of hopelessness, irritability, reduced ability to experience joy, trouble sleeping, urge to be alone, and self doubt. With the possibility of emotional fatigue looming, it is important we prioritize ourselves and disconnect.

Individually we must find a balance to help society, it is too much to ask everyone to change. But we can start with ourselves. Find a balance that benefits you to keep you empathetic, empathy is very valuable. It’s human nature, it gives us the power to resolve conflict and move forward to develop as a society. Without it, we will stay still and possibly move backwards. Empathy in fact, might be one of the most successful strategies to progress us forward and it costs nothing. I only call upon people to try, try to change. It starts as a simple thank you, or a hello to someone you pass. It starts with you.