“Empathy is luxury. Think about it. If you have the time to read about other points of view, you have the luxury of time, that you can spend on reading other perspectives and build empathy.”, said my interlocutor, an entrepreneur building a platform for contrarian views. I am paraphrasing a bit but we had been talking about how to break the filter bubble that the liberal metropolitan elite inhabit. Better people than I are already exploring how the word “elite” came to be associated pejoratively with liberal, metropolitan persons.
Research evidence from the USA and the UK however shows us that the poor, who do not have spare time since more time spent working is more money, are more charitable and more community minded. In other words, the poor display more empathy. How can empathy be a “luxury” then?
I believe in the essentialness of empathy though I arrive at it from another perspective.
I see myself as a part of a whole, whether that whole be our neighbourhood or the planet. As such my being empathetic is nothing more than my honouring my self.
She wasn’t convinced.
Further expounding on how I got to this framing of this world, I found that it may have come from imbibing some of the Hinduistic philosophical and cultural values amidst which I grew up in India. The idea of the unity of the macro- and the microcosms of our being is embedded in Aham Brahmasmi, “I am the infinite reality”. The idea is also embedded in the greeting Namaste, “I bow to the divine in you”. The idea of consequentiality of our actions naturally follows, often stated controversially in the western world as “Karma is a bitch”.
It is trivially evident that neither business nor humanity can act as if their shared linkages and connectivity do not matter, and as if they can thrive or even survive without one another.
Both spiritually and rationally, empathy is therefore not a luxury in my view.
The idea of luxury as empathy however appeals to me. More on which, later.