Motivation for Empathy: Seeing and Mimicry


Sometimes, I get a bit stymied, overwhelmed by the horrifying atrocities that I witness in the world.  I’m not advocating avoiding the witness of those events or of taking action to stop them.  But there are times when I become lost in these things.  I despair.  And then I become stilled, muddled and confused by my smallness.

One of thsmiling-baby-300x200e first things we do as babies is mimic the facial expressions of those we can see with our developing field of vision.  This nerve-empathy is a sort of hard wiring for our psychological empathy–imagining the emotional or mental states of those around us.  When we see people smile, our faces generally begin to mimic the expression before we are fully conscious of it.  This is why the yawn test can pick out those inclined toward sociopathic behavior.  They won’t yawn, not even a little.  The point of that ramble is–what happens if we surround ourselves with people who do not smile, who are cold, wrapped up in their own concerns? Do we get a little out of practice?  Perhaps, sometimes, just a little.  I think there’s merit in that idea.


To that end, I have decided to expose myself to images of unbridled, and unselfconscious joy every day.  If I have solitary days where I don’t see anyone, I’ll seek out giggly pictures for myself.  The interwebs are overbrimmed with images of adorable baby animals and small children frolicking randomly.  Because I’ve forgotten how to be glad for no reason.  I’ve been awash in horror and tragedy and inequity so frequently, that I forgot to refuel my happy tanks, so that I can go on looking at the dark mirror of my own species and my own soul.  I have so much to be thankful for, to be happy about–and I should be using that to fortify myself against what’s wrong–in my world and that beyond my private universe.  I have so much work to get done, so much I need tPuppy joyo repair and clear out.  It’s no time to sit still, locked up by my sense of helplessness.



2 thoughts on “Motivation for Empathy: Seeing and Mimicry

  1. I like that, “be glad for no reason.” It’s a good plan. It feels like there’s an anti-glad movement afoot, one that says at any point in time, somewhere in the world – lots of somewheres in the world – something hideous is taking place, and we should all be aware and suffering for it. We’re almost *encouraged* to seek out things to be miserable about. This has been on my mind.

    1. While I do think we should be aware of the suffering of others in the world–so that we are prepared to take whatever actions are available to mitigate it–I look at sympathy suffering much in the same way I see worrying. Feeling bad about those who are hungry or abused isn’t feeding or protecting them.

      I also think that by entrenching ourselves in this place of vicarious misery, we tie our hands to create good things or meet people who are actively working to improve the world. To be joyful in your own right is not to ignore the suffering of others, but to make of oneself a weapon of light and help to those in need.

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