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Empathy, Part 2

Friday, Aug. 9, 2019

In my previous post, I wrote about the importance and value of empathy for interpersonal relationships. Now I am discussing what I consider the opposite of empathy and the worst human trait – cruelty. Only a person lacking in empathy can be cruel.

Cruelty is hard for me to fathom and to bear. That there are people who enjoy being cruel to others. And we all know the cruelty that exists in our world. Our newspapers, news shows and online resources are full of stomach-wrenching stories. The mass shootings, child abuse, elder abuse, psychological online abuse and on and on. But what I want to address is the lack of empathy for animals.

It seems humans have been cruel to animals since the beginning of civilization – and probably before. The attitude – “dumb” animals – has been used to justify this brutality. Recently, two stories have come to my attention that further describe this entrenched mindset. One is the October 2019 National Geographic magazine cover story. “The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism.” People pay money to have their photos taken with animals all over the world. Then they get to post the photos online. What many if not most of these animals get is a miserable life. Chained, tortured, abused.

I saw the other story on a news show but it was probably also online. Two young men had captured a small shark. Maybe 4-5 feet in length. As it was lashed to the side of their boat, they cut of its tail, then set it “free” to die a painful death. They laughed. It was funny to them.

In the first case, people are unwittingly encouraging others to harm animals. In the second situation, the two young guys purposely injured an animal. As a psychologist, I want to warn you that animal abusers are lacking in empathy. And if a person abuses an animal, they can and often will abuse people. So think twice before you pay to have your photo taken with a captive animal and run as far away as you can from the two guys who tortured a shark.