Time Magazine’s Maia Szalavitz attempts to explain “Why Republicans and Democrats Can’t Feel Each Other’s Pain:”
The finding is disheartening because it suggests that our prejudices affect the processing of our emotions on a deep and completely unconscious level. The authors write:
These consequences suggest a surprising limitation in our capacity to empathize with people we disagree with or differ from… Firsthand painful experiences apparently do not translate into appreciating similar pain felt by dissimilar others.
This sad conclusion may help explain, at least in part, why politicians continue to talk past each other and fail to cooperate, even where there are obvious areas of agreement. (The similarities between Mitt Romney’s conservative-think-tank designed health plan and Obama’s health-care plan come to mind.)
There are exercises aimed at increasing empathy: some research suggests, for example, that simply spending time together in neutral or pleasant settings can help increase understanding between groups. Indeed, prior Congresses have actually crossed party lines to socialize. But while it’s doubtful that a non-partisan retreat or more social contact would change politicians’ attitudes today, for the sake of our children, let’s hope they find a way to work together.
Yes, let’s. Beginning with Time magazine itself, as Time journalist Belinda Luscombe demonstrates the above thesis in action:
Update: “Maybe Luscombe thinks she’s auditioning for The Daily Show or something. Ha ha! Just imagine the firestorm if a reporter asked Obama whether he tips black people more because they’re black,” Jim Treacher writes. “But it’s okay to be a bigot toward Nikki Haley because she’s a Republican.”