The Importance of Empathy

Over the last week the crazy story around Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross’s [rather inappropriate] prank calls to Andrew Sachs has been raging. I won’t link to all the articles but you can see more here and here for latest.

Now I’m not here to defend them, and I’m not here to slate them. There has been much written about the history of how this came to be top of the headlines when the Congo’s falling into chaos, the global economic system continues to disintegrate and America could be about to elect it’s first black president (Cosmodaddy appears to have the whole history in the middle of his post), but in summary: two complaints when broadcast, Daily Mail picks up the story leading to thousands of complaints, reporting in less biased media leads to comments even from the Prime Minister…

But it did get me thinking…

Last week I went to see Now or Later at the Royal Court Theatre. Essentially a story about how to spin a story it revolves around the son of the soon-to-be President Elect of the United States and an out-of-context internet-rumour about him with a photograph to boot. The debates are fascinating and raise points on whether freedom of speech would be constrained by apologising for something which, to some people, would appear to be highly insulting.

I started to contemplate the obvious connections between the two. The play was esentially based around an out of context, hyped up internet-fuelled press-spun story of an how an inappropriate action could have offended, or been seen to offend, people who do not have the same fundamental beliefs. And there are undoubtedly similarities to the recent BBC debacle (despite the Brand/Ross debate being far less considerate/intellectual and, most damagingly, bullying of a person).

This led me to a conclusion – that actually what is needed is empathy (sadly after all of this thinking the Guardian beat me to posting a similar view on the issue) and there’s a fundamental lesson for us all:

In a fast-paced world based on an [some may say ‘Thatcher-capitalism’]  ‘every man for himself’ attitude it’s easy to be blinkered to how your actions may be seen (especially in a world where free speech can be so easily taken out of context). What we all (myself included) need to do is contemplate how other people may see our actions (out of context or not), and how it will make other people feel. In a fast-paced world where we communicate through keyboards, microphones, telephones, text and computer screens it is easy to be blinkered to the emotional implications of what we say or do. It harder – but important – not to.

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