Question: How can empathy make people overlook the consequences of the actions of another person?
Answer: When we’re empathetic, we feel another’s pain. Because it hurts us, we want to fix it (their pain) and make it go away so it stops hurting us. Many times, this means that we excuse an offender, let them get away with inappropriate behavior, so that they feel better/feel better about themselves (so we think), and our pain eases. The problem with that is that they don’t learn from their mistake. We take away the motivation for them to learn from it, by excusing them. In so doing, we make ourselves part of the problem.
It’s not easy to let someone take the consequences of their actions, when we’re sensing their inner pain. But the only way many people learn is to be in enough pain to finally decide to change. In 12- Step programs, this is called “hitting bottom.” Sometimes, an intervention can help to make the alcohol/drug abuser uncomfortable enough to accept help. But during an intervention, the consequences of not accepting help have to be severe enough, and decided enough, to make them realize that they’re not going to be allowed to continue taking advantage of others.
When do we nurture and when do we let them fall flat on their face? Unfortunately, most people only learn to treat others well by experiencing some discomfort.
Copyright 2009 Linda Ann Stewart
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