Treating Fear with Empathy


(Randy) #1

Randal Rauser posted this discussion of discussing vaccines (and other fearful topics) with empathy. It’ reminds me that we all experience fear when approaching complex realities of life, and how important empathy is in effective communication.


(Laura) #2

Interesting. The doctors’ response that she reiterates here (to just do it and not question it) is somewhat reminiscent of authoritarian spiritual leaders, which many in my generation are fed up with – the idea that you need to “just obey,” because questions and curiosity are akin to rebellion.

I was vaccine-hesitant for a while. It’s easy to become that way when reading all the viral pseudoscience out there, some of it unfortunately shared by Christian leaders (and this was back when I was still nominally YEC). But a respectful conversation with my pediatrician helped get me back on the right track. After that I was in some pro-science parenting groups on facebook, and as much as I agreed with the need for science, some of them just got toxic, with condescension, people posting links to things they didn’t agree with so a bunch of people could jump in and start a comment war, etc.

I notice this a lot – not just with vaccines but with lots of controversial topics these days, that once someone links the topic to a life-and-death situation (sometimes even on both sides of an issue, like immigration), then a lot of our politeness and civility goes out the window, and we seem okay with that because we see ourselves as defenders against a deadly ideology.


(Randy) #3

Yes, it’s true that sometimes fear lends us to a false black and white situation. Condescension can be a weapon on the side of those who find themselves in the right to clear up insecurities elsewhere. It can be a type of bullying, too. My father said that where people are unkind without reason, you can usually find a deep hurt propelling that behavior (that advice to me started in middle school in furlough; seems that all ages struggle with that). I find myself even being falsely proud of being EC, pro vaccine, etc–when it has nothing to do with me but my own situation. God save us! :slight_smile: C S Lewis wrote about humility

" It is not chastening but liberating to know that one has always been almost wholly superfluous; whenever one has done well some other has done all the real work . . . you will do the same for him, perhaps, another day, but you will not know it."


(Jennifer Thomas) #4

Scientific American posted this blog a few days ago: “Why Smart People are Vulnerable to Putting Tribe Before Truth.” It explains new research into the “science of science communication,” and points out that science literacy by itself can actually lead to greater cultural polarization, not less polarization. (Who’d have thought it?) It’s only when science literacy is balanced by the trait of science curiosity that people are able to more independently assess the best available evidence (without worrying as much about the group opinion of their peers).

It’s the brain’s System 2 networks that engage most strongly with science literacy and the brain’s System 1 networks that engage with science curiosity. But empathy is also rooted in System 1 networks. So yes . . . empathy between caregiver and patient (or theologian and student) is essential if you want to find ways around the polarizing effect of “the right to be right.”


(system) #5

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