Letter Best: Monkey business

November 24, 2013 

I recently listened to an interesting NPR broadcast that explored the nature of empathy and how it affects us. It turns out that chimpanzees and other primates show a startling level of empathy for their brethren. Yes, they fight, and can even kill each other, but the usual response to conflict among the group is compromise based on empathy.

Human beings share that level of empathy, and surpass it through reasoning. Our empathy is highly developed for those closest to us, less so for neighbors and those who share our life experiences, such as fellow countrymen. We care deeply for those who suffer sudden losses, less so for those whose tale is more complex and less abrupt. Our reasoning kicks in, allowing us to disregard those who have woeful stories of their own making.

Reasoning has given us civilization ... and war. It has inspired us toward the stars, and allowed the degradation and enslavement of many. So, in this approaching holiday season when you think of those around you and around the world, please stop for a moment. Not to think, but to empathize. Only then should you turn on the thinking cap.

And please do not turn off the empathy.


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