Turning Empathy in to Critical Thinking

an old silver key on a black background
Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash 

In a folder, I came across a sticky note on which I'd scrawled "People would rather feel compassionately than think logically."  I think I wrote it when I was lamenting how lots of people (especially students at the time) seem to be more easily swayed by emotional appeals than logical facts.

There are many "hot button" issues in economics that are difficult to navigate in the classroom and the world at large. Too often we economists come across as cold and unemotional in our examination and explanation of issues.  I think this may be the wrong approach in the other direction.

My hunch is that empathy can be used effectively as a part of the process of critically examining hot button economic issues.

What do I think I know about this?

People are empathetic and compassionate.  They care about the plight of other humans.  They also seem to like to have someone to blame.  The "us" and the "them" group isn't static.  It depends on the situation.

The awareness of positive vs normative statements is helpful when discussing emotionally loaded topics. 

The resistive mindset (from generative learning theory) is the tendency to not acknowledge a reality that is different than the way things "should" be.  Acknowledging resistance is a useful first step in moving past it.  It rarely works to barrel right past it (the yoga teacher in me knows this to be true).  You can't change a person's mind my hammering in the facts.  If the facts contradict what they already "know" to be true or believe then the facts rarely stick and sometimes are more polarizing.

The outcomes we observe in the world can be traced back to the incentives that exist for the parties involved.  (Don't hate the player, hate the game.)

I think economists could use peoples' empathy and compassion to help them with the aspect of critical thinking that has to do with identifying the various viewpoints of the stakeholders.


To receive these posts via email, subscribe here. You'll also get my free monthly work-life well-being newsletter. Unsubscribe anytime.


Be Burnout Proof | katherinesauer.com