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    • Maya Stiles Parsons Spier

      Columnist, Editor-in-Chief
    • August 26, 2013 in Columnists

    A society without empathy is sociopathic

    The Wikipedia article on psychopathy, which they use interchangeably with sociopathy, has as part of its definition “Meanness. Lacking empathy and close attachments with others, disdain of close attachments, use of cruelty to gain empowerment, exploitative tendencies…”

    Dictionary.com defines empathy as:  “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.”

    When combined in a human being with sympathy (“the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.” Dictionary.com) and compassion (“a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” Dictionary.com), you get someone capable of putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and then caring enough to do something to help.

    It also means that this person will understand and validate an issue, whether they themselves would ever have that same problem – or not.

    Without these tender feelings, you get that definition of sociopathy (or psychopathy).  The first degree of it is that they only care if they would have that problem themselves.  The second degree is that they simply do not care at all, unless it’s their very own problem.  Then they care – a lot.  My husband has a favorite humorous line – the cry of the sociopath:  “I feel my pain!”

    It is funny, but it’s also true.  A sociopath will cry most sincerely over his or her own pain, but believe me, they neither understand nor care about yours.

    This is bad enough on an individual scale, but when you expand this to a societal scale, its horrifying.

    • It’s how we do nothing about the holocaust of animal abuse and slaughter that tallies in the millions.
    • It allows the world death industry to torture as it slaughters animals for our consumption.
    • It keeps people silent when they hear the screams of an abused child.
    • It’s what allows people to walk by a woman being gang raped in the subway.
    • It keeps the world silent when Assad uses chemical warfare on his own people, leaving dead children and their families lying in rows as their anguish survivors wail in grief.
    • It allowed the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda and Kosovo, among so many others.

    It is how the human race has allowed every abomination on every scale – this is not their problem.  It’s not their responsibility.

    “And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Genesis 4:9 – King James version

    What too many people don’t understand is that there is no separation.  In this tiny marble, lost in the infinite reaches of space, we are all one.  The starving dog, the foundered donkey, the beaten child, the raped woman, the slaughtered village in Syria, the genocide we’ve seen in our living memory – there is no “them” in this equation.  It’s only us.

    Those who think there is separation are fooling themselves.  They simply have not been in that position and because of this, they think they are safe.  I can tell you from experience – they are not.

    It takes so little.  Lose your job – lose your house.  Lose your house – you are homeless.  One minute you’re driving your car to work.  The next you are living in it, that is, until it breaks down.  A month later, you are the person in ragged clothes, sitting on the street, hand held out as people walk by giving you contemptuous looks.

    One minute you are living in a country at peace.  Then a new regime comes in.  They don’t like your face, your race, your religion.  You try to live quietly, but they notice you soon enough.  Next thing you know, you’re living in a ghetto.  Then they round you up and off you go to a camp where they invent new, clever and efficient ways to kill you.

    We create this sociopathic culture in ways innocent and not so innocent.  We do it by living in a me-first society, where we are concerned with our needs and the needs of those we consider ours over all others.  We promote it further by not teaching empathy to our children – and sadly, it needs to be taught in schools because there’s no guarantee the kids’ll be learning it at home.

    We do it by refusing to act with empathy on a cultural basis and on a governmental basis as well.  Where are the laws requiring we treat all beings with respect and kindness on a local, state, national or international level?  Who will stand for the helpless if not we, the people of this planet?

    We’re the only beings with the capacity to either help or harm on a worldwide scale.  We’re the only ones who can stand against cruelty and tyranny, who can open up our hearts and purify our souls and then reach out with that love and beauty to create a world where no being will suffer at our hands.  We can create a world of peace, ecological health, love and beauty, or we can refuse to learn a damn thing from our millenia of stupidity and cruelty and continue on our horrific way until we immolate ourselves in our own vitriol.

    We think it’s hard to make a better world, but it’s not.  It just begins with empathy…

    This is dedicated to every person who has suffered at the hands of the sociopathic – from individually to globally.  It is also dedicated to every person who strives for the evolution of empathy.



    • This is a wonderful essay, Maya; your passion for truth is always infectious! Your husband’s rendering of the sociopath’s dilemma, “I feel my pain,” is quite funny but light years away from the true sociopath. The definitions you supply are helpful, but “meanness” and “cruelty” are very tough to define themselves. How do people understand those concepts except through the context of their own experience?

      I read your column this morning just after locating Albert Samaha’s “The Immortalization of an Anonymous Death” in Italian in Internazionale magazine (lo spettacolo una morte anonima). The editors commissed their own illustrations since they could not use the copyrighted photos that had accompanied the original SF Weekly article. I about passed out when I saw the illustration on page 89: my son Dylan is pictured from his BACK as he stands on his ledge and looks into the plaza where he is supposed to jump to his death. The people below are standing together to outline a SKULL where he is supposed to die.

      I do not pretend to have the answers, and never dreamed I would spend the rest of my life trying to explain raw hate, the kind that cannot even be traced back to a political or religious or ethnic motivation.

      Many thanks for your thoughtful piece. I felt you dedication at the end as personally as if you had said my name.


        • Maya North

        • August 26, 2013 at 7:57 pm
        • Reply

        I think the sociopath’s dilemma is quite accurate — I’ve known quite a few and been a serious long-term victim of one — and while it’s an amusing reflection on it, that was pretty much it. They feel for themselves quite sincerely, and absolutely nobody else. I do believe that, as with most things, sociopathy has its own sort of spectrum from functional and reasonably harmless (I have family like this) to the ravagers of your son to people like Ted Bundy. Yes, the people who baited your son were sociopaths, but they were active agents of hate and destruction as well. They didn’t need a political, religious or ethnic motivation — casual and heartless cruelty was enough. Any action designed to cause destruction, misery or horror would amply define meanness and cruelty — we all have a pretty good idea what that is.

        And yes, that dedication did very much include you. <3


      • Terri Connett

      • August 26, 2013 at 6:21 pm
      • Reply

      Maya, this is so powerful. And so true! You are an incredible writer.


        • Maya North

        • August 26, 2013 at 7:58 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you, dearheart. I’ve yet to find a better solution to the world’s ills. If we truly care as much for the well-being of those we consider “other” as we do for ourselves, then the rest will follow. <3


      • Heather Lee Alani

      • August 26, 2013 at 8:29 pm
      • Reply

      this brought tears to my eyes. The blantant honest truth is none of us can afford to not feel or allow ourselves to feel empathy! That goes against every positive attribute you have as humans. Compassion and love for our brothers and sisters. Wonderfully written once again, Ms. Maya.


        • Maya North

        • August 26, 2013 at 9:57 pm
        • Reply

        Thank you so much, dearheart. It is simply essential. ♥



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