Thursday, February 16, 2012

Being Human - The Curious Case of The Empath in The Nighttime

It used to be the distinction of humanity was reason. Then we created computers that could reason just as well as, if not better than us. If it cannot be reason, then what is it that makes us human?

Recently there has been a great deal of discussion about emotional intelligence. Brain researchers have found that emotion, not reason, is what causes us to make one choice over another. Emotion is what makes our society go 'round.Could this be what sets our race apart from the others of our little blue world? And what does this mean for the social status of those who feel deeply?

It used to be that feeling strongly was something discouraged by American culture. Socially, people were expected to put on a smile, regardless of what they felt. The reality is, it has not changed very much. While we may discuss emotional quotients, we look down on those who openly express their emotions. As a culture, it is embarassing for us to see a man cry, a mother yell in anger, or a couple kiss in public. We discourage this kind of behavior through our looks and comments. Even when I kiss my husband in the grocery store, I feel like I have done something wrong when I catch the looks of other patrons. But why shouldn't I kiss my husband whenever I want? After all, I love him. Yet this expression of feeling is unacceptable socially.

If something as small as a public kiss could be an issue, what happens to those who feel emotions that are not their own? If we talk about emotionality as the height of humanity, should not an empath be celebrated for his or her gifts? Yet this group of people is often relegated to the bounds of 'hippy' and 'quack.'

Instead of denegrating such a group, we should take time to understand them. We should ask why they wake up in the middle of the night feeling anxious, because it likely does not have to do with their own feelings. We should find out why the music in a restaurant could make an empath feel strongly one way, and with the next song feel the exact opposite. We should try to understand the tactics and strategies such individuals use just so they can walk through a crowded shopping district. If we can have candid and welcoming discussions about what it means to be empathic, perhaps more empaths would be open about their unusual abilities. We might find there are more out there than we thought.

There are, however, more benefits to open discussion about high emotional intelligence. Not only would empaths be more inclined to "come out," but those who did would reap significant rewards. Just like Mensa, there could be a society for high empaths to enjoy being themselves. This type of society would give empaths a place to connect, find support, as well as gain social status. It could potentially remove the social stigmas associated with empaths, as crystal-using, angel-seeking crazies.

Still it is true that open and frank discussion about such a group will not make everyone comfortable. There is something disturbing about a person being able to feel another's reactions. It is likely that some prejudice would remain, as there is always *some* related to every difference (even now there remains prejudice about red hair!). That said, I believe the benefits to empaths themselves and society in general outweigh any costs.

Emotion is what makes us human. Our ability to feel with others, rejoice and weep, is what marks our place in this world. Because of this, we must value those in our society who feel strongly. We must validate open expression of emotions, and encourage open discussion of empathy and empathic individuals. By doing so, we continue along our path - the path that allows us to actualize our humanity.

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