Who needs it?
My friend, Lucky Otter, brought my attention to a movement I didn’t really know much about, the Positive Thinking Movement. I knew, of course, that some people try to always think positive but I had no idea it was a movement. Otter pointed out the negative side of this way of thinking. It discourages one from acknowledging, not only our own pain, but the pain of others and was, therefore, counter-empathetic. Some of these people go so far as to blame the unfortunate by suggesting that their misfortune was a direct result of negative thinking. Now, it is possible for negative attitudes to draw misfortune to someone. But to think all misfortune is the result of negativity or the converse, that all good fortune is the result of positive thinking is more wish than reason. It is especially absurd to see Christians indulge in such nonsense. I would suggest they re-read the Book of Job.
That said, I think there is a lot of good in choosing to be happy. Yes, happiness is, to a large extent, a choice. The proof is the demeanor of some of the most downtrodden people you could meet who still manage to be surprisingly cheerful. I have noticed something strange about wealth (and poverty). No matter how much (or little) someone has, s/he often feels poor. I have heard wealthy men bitch about how little they have, how much their kids’ private school is costing them, yada yada. And they really mean it. Because no matter how much we have, our spending and expectations expand to consume it. I worked in a rehab for drug addicts. The women there had nothing. Most were on Welfare. But they still managed to enjoy life, they would put on a tune while cleaning up the place, and show a joy that was palpable. I do think we can choose happiness most of the time.
Personally, I try to stay in a good mood. I find things to do that make me happy. My grandiosity helps a lot there. Lucky Otter pointed to an article in “Harper’s Magazine tracing the rise of the positive thinking movement, and how it’s been taken to ridiculous and heartbreaking extremes, leading to the victim-blaming mentality and society-wide narcissism so pervasive today. This attitude that we can all be our own gods …” But I am my own god and I like it that way. Psychopaths are generally known to be pretty happy people. Perhaps lack of empathy and guilt has something to do with that. Not that I don’t ever feel down. I have to fight boredom in a life that is pretty limited. But I wouldn’t change places with an empath.
The pervasive attitude of society is that empathy is a wonderful thing. Those who have it are a lot more virtuous than those who don’t. Not everyone agrees. An article in the New York Times, Empathy is Actually a Choice, says “a growing chorus of critics, inspired by findings like those above, depict empathy as a source of moral failure. In the words of the psychologist Paul Bloom, empathy is a ‘parochial, narrow-minded’ emotion — one that ‘will have to yield to reason if humanity is to survive.'”
James Fallon has spoken about the ability of psychopaths to make choices that empaths are unable to. His famous trolley car experiment describes how a psychopath, by detaching himself from emotion, can choose to sacrifice one life to save six.
The best rebuke of the Great God Empathy was made in a comment on someone else’s blog (link to full comment and blog post below).
This empathy stuff is the biggest joke under the sun. So what if you got feelings? What makes yours so damn important? And while we are about that what makes you so more important that we should listen to you? Your feelings? Give me a break. You have to do better than that.
Don’t expect any sympathy from me. I have no sympathy, even for myself. Work out the best thing to do, and do it. And do it within the context of the law, and follow through. This emotional dross is the reason NTs are a real drag. Almost any person who thinks like me would say there is something wrong with an NT. They are programmed to almost always do the wrong or the worst thing. Hitler, btw, was no psychopath. He was an empath, that’s why he did what he did.
It’s about time someone pointed out the ultimate selfishness of empathy, the self-indulgence of it. It’s a feel-good drug. But it’s the only drug that enables the addict to speak from a high moral ground. I prefer the drug of grandiosity. I may be selfish and self-indulgent but at least I’m not posing in a white hat.
- The War on Unhappiness. Goodbye Freud, Hello Positive Thinking by Gary Greenberg
- Where I Stand on Positive Thinking. Lucky Otter’s Haven
- The Problem With Positive Thinking. New York Times
- Can We Have Too Much Empathy? Lucky Otter’s Haven
- Empathy is Actually a Choice. New York Times
- Empathy as a Choice. Scientific American Blog Network
- Empathy is Not a Choice. Psychology Today
- Emotional Exhaustion: Is Empathy a Choice? Mental Floss
- How “Positive Thinking” Nazis Jettison Responsibility. Lucky Otter’s Haven
- 3 Things Psychopaths Can Teach You About Being a Happier Person.
- Be More Successful: New Harvard Research Reveals a Fun Way to Do it.
- No Strings on Me: Is There a Psychopath in Your Life? Uncommon Knowledge
- The Psychopath’s Emotions: What Does He Feel? Psychopathyawareness Blog
- Against Empathy. Paul Bloom, Boston Review
- The Baby in the Well by Paul Bloom
- Comment by Jul in blog Conscience, what conscience? by James
- Empathy, Blindarm der Psyche. Eva Wachter tells us in German about this sacred cow.
- Empathy, the Appendix of the Soul. Eva Wachter, translated to English.
- Empathie — ver braucht das? Perspecteva.at — Etwas anders gesehen
- What It’s Like to be an Empath. VICE