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Author Topic: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof  (Read 1324 times)

Offline The Gem Cutter

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Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« on: February 09, 2017, 08:51:58 PM »
I've heard of writers who are cold fish, but for the most part, the writers I have encountered are passionate and highly empathetic. This led me to wonder how many of you other writers consider yourselves to have more than the average amount of empathy? Does the pain of others hit you harder than most? Do you find yourself angered by injustices that hit others whom you don't even know or even like?

I laughed when I started this thread, because I wondered "Do people who have little empathy realize that? Or do they just assume everyone else is a mushy bowl of oatmeal?" I really wouldn't know. I'm the bowl of oatmeal, albeit one that can set that empathy aside, though at some personal cost.
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Offline Quill

Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2017, 09:45:31 PM »
As you say, it's hard to measure your empathy relatively to other people. One way to look at it might be what a person does for other people, but is it different if you do it for strangers or for people you know? And can people be very empathetic without it actually translating into action?

I consider myself as having a certain amount of empathy - I volunteer every week with refugee children, and I donate blood, for instance. But I have no idea if I have more, less, or the typical measure of empathy compared to people around me. After all, lots of others also do what I do, or more.

As related to writing though, I would assume empathy is a necessity. If you are going to write characters well, you not only need to imagine their personality; you must be able to step into their place and think, speak, and act as they do in a given situation.

That is pretty obvious, but I think writing (and reading) also increases your empathy. Almost like a muscle you exercise, extending your empathy to fictional characters carry over into real life. I remember reading about a study that concluded something akin to this, that reading made you a more empathetic person, but I'd have to dig it up to say anything about its validity.
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Offline Alex Hormann

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Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #2 on: February 09, 2017, 10:26:28 PM »
Interesting question. I consider myself to be rather lacking in empathy, and I do think it has an impact on my writing. I think it's in large part due to my upbringing. Prior to University (currently in 3rd year) I lived on the same farm for my entire life. Since it was a fair way to the nearest town, I never socialised with people my own age outside of school. And since there were few other farmer's sons there, I had different life experiences to the others. I still approach things with a certain 'farmer logic'. Hoping I don't come out of this sounding like a serial killer, I do tend to approach animals and people with the same emotional distance. The problems of those around me just don't bother me, and I'm more annoyed by the extent it affects my own life than I am empathetic towards them.

This spreads over into my reading as well. Unlike almost all other readers I know, I'm not all that bothered about character with whom I can make an emotional connection. I'm in it for the story, the worldbuilding, or the 'big ideas'. The past few years have been an uphill battle as I try to explain to my lecturers. Just last Tuesday, we were workshopping some of my writing, and the consensus was that it was 'technically proficient, but lacked any emotional involvement', which really drove the point home for me.

I suppose in the end, I am trying to be more empathetic, or just pretending to be so that my writing improves. As I say, it's an uphill battle.

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Offline Lanko

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Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #3 on: February 09, 2017, 10:47:51 PM »
In real life, sure, I can feel for people I never met and never will.
In books I never felt the need to identify with characters' feelings or thoughts as if they were my own to like them. Whatever they do, it's more important to me the consistency and to understand why. Even if it's not explicitly shown or told and it's just left in the air ambiguously for your imagination.

Also, broken or traumatized characters appeal more to me, but not because I'm sympathizing or pitying them, they just feel more interesting somehow. Maybe it's to see how they get out of the abyss or if they fall further even if succeeding.
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Offline J.R. Darewood

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Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2017, 08:07:25 AM »
I'm an a-hole

Offline Eli_Freysson

Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #5 on: February 10, 2017, 09:16:28 AM »
My branch of autism has been described as lacking SOCIAL empathy, meaning we have trouble understanding others, but being somewhat overcranked in terms of actually feeling sorry for others when we do understand that they feel bad. I think it ties in with the input control problems. News of murder, brutality, prejudice and all that shit tends to REALLY get to me, and these days I shy away from really dark, sadistic stories.
« Last Edit: February 10, 2017, 09:35:46 AM by Eli_Freysson »
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Offline Roelor

Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #6 on: February 10, 2017, 10:12:25 AM »
I can emphatize with people and their situations.
I generally choose to do not.. I believe we are all our own Skippers on our own ship and other than your basic environment, your life is the direct result of your own choices. Empathy invites people to blame their situations on other factors than their own choices.

Yes, some things  are unfair, some things suck.. But that's life and it is how you deal with that which defines you.
I get really annoyed from people who put themselves in a victim position, as for me, this is putting the responsibility for your own choices, in other peoples hands..

Anyway.. I'm a empathic person, I can understand and feel how you'd feel. I do not feel that this is what I am supposed todo and think pampering people is wrong.

Offline sennydreadful

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Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2017, 10:15:46 AM »
I have been known to cry over toilet roll adverts, so it's possible I have a lot of empathy. ;) Plus, my books are built around the characters, and my goal is to make the reader care about them, or at least want to know what happens to them - so empathy is at the heart of writing for me. :)

Offline cupiscent

Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #8 on: February 10, 2017, 10:46:07 AM »
Dunno about empathy. I have a tendency to say, "But why would someone think/do/say that?" and then think my way through it. I am not sure if I'm a writer because I do that or if I do that because I'm a writer. I do think it is an important skill for a writer to be able to encompass views outside our own. However, I might understand why, for instance, anti-vaxxers have the stance they have, but I still think they're egregiously stupid, and downright hate them for endangering my baby.

Offline ksvilloso

Re: Writers - Empathy and Lack Thereof
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2017, 06:49:38 PM »
I write character-driven fiction in an effort to have an outlet for all the emotions I tend to absorb from the people around me. :P I can't read the news sometimes, as I have the tendency to feel depressed because I put myself too much into the shoes of people I read about. And the anger...good grief, I write because otherwise I may go on more rampages than necessary. Which can make me a bit impartial at times, lately, but it's just a way of putting a lid on myself. Having TOO much empathy can make it really difficult to function at times.
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