When Empathy and Teaching Collide

Is teaching empathy abusive? (original question on Quora)

If by “teaching” you mean punishing non-empathetic behavior, it could be considered abusive.

The roots of empathy are familial, and families grow in social and cultural contexts often beyond their control. Punishing lack of empathy is more likely to further engrain the original difficult context that gave rise to it.

A simple but common form of putative empathy is coercing children into say “please” and “thank you.” It’s one thing to teach it — through dialogue, storytelling, and example. It’s another to strictly monitor and enforce. Enforcement mentality (which is really there to protect a parent’s ego, as in “see how polite my child is”) entrenches a multitude of dysfunctional beliefs, such as “people who want anything must grovel for it.”

Original publish date Oct 10, 2017