We (Paul and Liz) were talking about the fact that we relate to different people – particularly men – in different ways. There are some people that we really like, but we don't feel that there is a connection there - no real meeting of minds. On the other hand, we feel that there are people with whom we have a genuine relationship – they understand our motivation, and we understand them.
In this context, we found the idea of “empathy” - as we have interpreted on our scale of 1-5 below – a fertile ground for discussion, and general agreement with each other, and we'd like to see what other people think. We were conscious of the fact that this was more than a little dangerous to judge from “our point of view”! However, here is the scale:
1 – least empathic. Is completely self-absorbed, and simply doesn't comprehend that anybody else has concerns or motivations that might be different from theirs.
2 – Is pretty self-absorbed. Is able to conceive of the possibility that somebody else might have a different motivation, but can't imagine why, or how these motivations can be as soundly founded as their own.
3 – Balance between self-absorbed and empathy. Generally has his or her own priorities, but will understand somebody else's perspective and will consider changing his or her actions in response to somebody else's concerns.
4 – Empathic. Is sensitive to the concerns and motivations of other people, and takes them into account in deciding a course of action or even a choice of words.
5 – Highly empathic. Understands other people's perspective and motivations, at times to a greater extent than they may do themselves. This can even lead to nervous problems if the person feels too much the clash of emotional demands from different people.
Women, in general, seem to score 1-2 higher than men on average. Another surprise was that men with higher education tended to come out more empathic than men without it – something that was most apparent in the “younger” generation – this trend was less marked in women - and there were certainly exceptions.
One of the most painful things in both of our experiences was seeing women in relationships with highly unempathic men – who fail to recognise that they have their own concerns and motivations. This might be reflected in their indifference towards the desire of the woman to have a family, for example, or a failure to realise that the woman has as much right to leisure activities as the man has to go out and play golf on all of his days off (to take an extreme example!).
Food for thought?