Penn State Sociologist Sam Richards just took attendees at a TED conference on an experiment in empathy. Richards argues that sociology is impossible without empathy, but I think his radical experiment also shows something else: Goodness, at least in the form of the Golden Rule, isn’t possible without empathy. We may be able to fake it for a bit and force ourselves to treat someone else the way we’d like to be treated, but how long can any of us bludgeon ourselves into doing right when we don’t feel any empathy for the other person?
I thought I was an empathy expert, but Richards’ experiment took me places I had never gone before. Beside from shaping my thoughts about goodness in general, Richards’ experiment also left me pondering the goodness of American foreign policy. What would it look like if all of our politicians and every voter could think like Richards thinks?
Go ahead. I dare you to engage in Richards’ experiment.