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Empathy is growing in the world like weed. All green things have value, they make the air cleaner. But some green things take more than they give. Some green things coil themselves around the host whispering Oh hey, I am here just to give you a hug, but inside their feral capillary system is sucking away all the host's vitality. Some green things give you the illusion of life when they are programmed for death. Empathy has become that thing.
At a recent panel discussion, the moderator, a dear friend, gently asked me about the importance of empathy in the mental health movement. I felt my jaws tighten.
"No," I said, trying hard to appear calm. "I am tired of worshipping at the altar of empathy. We talk far too much about empathy. Here's the thing: we do not need empathy to be human. We do not need to 'understand' what someone else is going through to do the right thing. We do not need to 'walk in their shoes' or 'feel their pain'. Can we stop hankering for empathy please? It is taking us backwards."
Even I was a little stunned by my unprovoked outburst. Attacking empathy is taboo, because empathy is packaged and sold to us as the tender soul of humanity itself. The World Economic Forum, no less, calls empathy 'the most important leadership skill for our troubled times' in an article with a stock image showing four white men poring over sticky notes on a white board.
That one photo tells you everything you need to know about why our empathy obsession drives me mad.