How America's Empathy Crisis Hinders Healthy Relationships
Do people really listen?
I was outraged when someone I trusted in one of my previous jobs told me, “You’re too emotional. How can I trust you with this responsibility?” As if the way I process emotions overrides my training. I just wanted to scream, “You don’t get it.” And many people don’t––its an epidemic in America that needs a solution. People have also often told me that I can’t expect them to know how I feel. While I can see the validity in their viewpoint, I don’t completely agree with them either, and here’s why.
Many women are naturally feeling-oriented, which is why men often don’t understand their emotional sensitivity. That’s not to say empathetic men don’t exist, but they are not the majority. Although women naturally feel emotions intensely due to their caring and nurturing nature, cultural stereotypes have often dictated emotional behaviors in America; men cannot cry, yet women can. However, neither can express too much emotion. Otherwise, they are incompetent and cannot get anywhere in life. While this is a common scenario, lack of empathy extends far beyond that.
This idea probably came from the solution-oriented, individualistic productivity culture that plagues the United States. Although the USA was one of the 10 most empathetic countries in a 2010 Michigan State University study on empathy, according to Psychology Today, assistant professor of psychology, William Chopik, believes the younger generation keeps changing that.
It’s now 2018, and it seems like the country has become less empathetic. Multihousing Pro reports that, due to the increasingly prevalent technology culture, Millennials and Gen Z have started losing emotional intelligence due to the lack of face-to-face conversation. Think about how little context texts give about emotions––yes, emojis help, but they don’t have a tone of voice or body language. Without these contextual clues, people can easily misinterpret texts and lose sight of how someone really feels.
Furthermore, the American culture is highly solution-oriented. Therefore, instead of often engaging emotionally with other people, those who aren’t sensitive to emotions may immediately default to solving the problem instead of listening for a person’s underlying emotions.
For instance, someone who just went through a painful breakup may want someone who will listen to them and understand the pain they feel. However, someone with a fix-it mentality may tell them that time will heal all wounds. Although this person has a point, their statement isn’t what the hurting person needs to hear. Instead, the grieving person needs to know that they’re valued, even when the other person does not value them, or something similar.
If people have emotional intelligence, why do we still suffer from the fix-it problem? The listener carries 80 percent of the responsibility for effective listening, according to a Cornell University report. In essence, they are responsible for understanding the problem, not necessarily finding a solution, unless the speaker asks for advice. This is known as the fix-it syndrome, and people who suffer from it are known as “fixers.”
While helping others isn’t necessarily a problem, the issue is that many people suffer from a false reality: solving others problems will take the pain away. However, this is not empathy because it is problem-solving, not listening. Often times, people actually want someone to listen instead of redirecting the issue and fixing their problems. When this happens, the suffering person feels as if the other person does not truly want to listen to their emotions, so they end up feeling like a burden.
Taking all these things into account, Americans have lost touch with their natural empathic wiring. Instead of suffering with others and feeling their emotions, they often make emotions the enemy and elevate rationalistic thinking. This line of thinking will only contribute to relational difficulties, a decline of emotional intelligence, and a lack of self-awareness.
Imagine what could change if people rediscovered their emotional side; we could reduce relational conflicts that result from buried emotions. We would have leaders who cared for their employees as persons instead of chastising them for having emotions. People would feel heard and free to express their true selves instead of running from their feelings and falling into a spiral of low self-esteem or depression. Overall, empathy makes the world a much more peaceful place and cultivates thriving communities.