Thursday, 14 May 2015

Are You A Psychopath?

Of course you're not! You are as empathetic as the next person, I'm certain of it. And yet ... And yet ...

Taking the focus off you for the moment, let's look at how I react to stories of people I can't, or won't understand. There's this woman at this group I belong to who drives me round the bend. She is loud, domineering, self-publicising and smug. I possess all of these amiable qualities to a degree, so I guess what really got under my skin was that she out-competed me at my favourite game - being nice to people and geeting praised for it. Oh dear me, yes, I know myself and I'm not always pretty. Anyway, the point is, I laughingly spoke of the horrible Emma to friends with the rider, "I could take an axe to her, I really could."


After about the third time of postulating murder, I stopped to take a good look at the feelings I was experiencing. I was upset and  angry. Underneath this pleasant exterior, something ancient and reptilian was asserting itself.

Fortunately, I've been here before with other Eights on the Enneagram, and I know when to stop. The cure is to befriend. To listen, to reassure and to empathise. It takes a few short weeks for this to take effect, and now I bear with Emma's passion, enthusiasm and wholeheartedness (note the rethink here ... ) with equinimity. It was a pratice well-worth making perfect.

So I was alert to a letter written to the New Scientist by Darach Conneely, "Voting For Empathy Or For Negativity" that quoted some research by Harris and Fitch (Princeton) "Dehumanising the lowest of the low".

You think you know how it works: Populist politiicians incite in perfectly ordinary and respectable people the fear of 'the other'. Turn a young man or woman who has fallen on hard times, and is in need of a helping hand, into a 'benefit cheat' and the helping hand is snatched back pronto. Your reptilian brain is switched on and empathy flies out of the window - the fact-finding rational being that you can be, has been short-circuited, and consequently, some rather unpleasant people now hold power. (Thinks: Do you really want this person grasping the money bag when it's YOU that's down on your luck? Self-interest can be a very long game.)

Quote from Conneely's letter:

"Brain scans appear to show very clear differences between psychopaths and people who feel empathy. But when normal people were led to believe that they were observing a person suffering and that this person was a cheat or not part of "our tribe" their scans looked the same as those of psychopaths, with no sign of any empathy. ..."


Managing your empathy is your affair, and I'm confident you do well at it. My plea would be, don't let someone after your vote manage it for you.

1 comment:

  1. With UK elections safely out of the way, and extremism not fairing well, I guess this post is for my American friends who have to endure seemingly endless camoaigning!