This article is part of a series of modified excerpts from the introduction to our book "On Virtue." 

Beware of Empathy

Humans cannot truly feel another’s feelings.

As a person recognizes that nature and society are beginning to treat him as an adult, he reaches a critical stage of emotional development. His inner choices will quickly decide whether he will determine what he thinks or whether others will. The first decision is how he reasons about fellow-feeling and empathy. One exists and one does not. For the purposes of this article, empathy is the ability to feel the feelings of another. A belief in empathy is expressed as, “I feel your pain,” or “I just feel such despair in you when you talk about this,” or “That hurts me to hear that.”

Why is belief in empathy dangerous?

Humans do not have empathy. We have something very different and much better. It's much better because most humans can barely handle their own emotions. What we perceive as feeling what another human feels is our projection of our personality onto another person. This is a well-known phenomenon used by most manipulators.

It is very dangerous to believe in empathy because manipulators know that a victim who believes he has empathy will almost always trust them and do what they want him to do (after all, “I can feel what he is feeling,” right? What’s not to trust? It's impossible to mistrust someone when you feel exactly what they do when they do. Do not mislead yourself into thinking that the actions of another person must mean that they are motivated by exactly what would motivate you if you did those same actions.

If you are still not convinced, think about how our inability to feel another’s feelings is proven every time you hear about the police finding the home of a serial killer, and neighbor after neighbor says something like, “We had no idea this could be happening in our neighborhood; he seemed like a nice guy.” Think about that. Even though the house was host to unspeakable human suffering for years, nobody felt the suffering. Most slept soundly. Some even had celebrations and laughing during that time, and they only find themselves in emotional pangs after their mind meditates on the suffering of someone who no longer suffers and never will again. That's not feeling what the victim felt when they felt it.

If a victim of torture ever caught a glimpse through the barred window at a mother walking a baby carriage and cooing to a hidden infant, then would the imprisoned victim believe that either she or the mother felt what the other was feeling at that moment?To the contrary, interviews with survivors of torture and with sadistic serial killers indicate that the innocent often cry out to God or feebly seek a higher concept such as Justice by continually asking something like, “Why are you doing this to me? Why are you doing this?!” It is noteworthy that victims do not call out for their best friend or favorite empath. The victims know that no one else feels their pain – that is part of the suffering and feeling of degradation from the dehumanization of being separated from those closest to them.

The fact is that humans do not have true empathy, and if it were possible to develop this ability it would only be Justice to sentence the guilty to have it, rather than the innocent, so the wicked could experience the suffering they take such glee in imposing on innocents. Fear, not kindness, restrains the wicked.

Currently, the fantasy of social empathy is now victimizing traditionally Greco-Roman cultures. The good news is that we do not need empathy to make the world better. In fact, our inability to feel what others feel is necessary for us to function individually and as a nation. Replacing the fantasy of empathy with Virtue is what will bring you the greatest happiness, will soothe the most suffering, and will thwart con artists from using your fantasies to strangle you.

This is how Light overcomes Darkness without sharing in it.