The empathic brain configures the human being to wake up to the emotions and needs of others. It is the evolutionary result of our socialization, a link oriented towards our connection with others to live in greater harmony, resolve conflicts and guarantee our survival. Empathy is (or should be) the ability that guarantees our well-being.
We say "should" for a very concrete reason. A large majority of us know that empathy does not always guarantee humanitarian action. People are able to feel and read the emotions of their interlocutors which is rather wonderful. We perceive the suffering, the fear, we read the anxiety on the faces … However, when we put ourselves in the place of others, we do not always make the step towards prosocial behavior, we do not always give our help.
"If you do not have empathy and effective personal relationships, it does not matter if you're smart, you will not get very far."
Thus, as explained by neurologists such as Christian Keysers of the Netherlands Institute of Neurology, we still have very little knowledge about what is known as the empathic brain. The discovery of mirror cells in the late 90's by Giacomo Rizzolatti made us believe that humans had reached this evolutionary stage called by many Homo Empathicus.
However, our behavior is still relatively individualistic. Empathy drives us to connect with others, to feel each other's relationships as if they were ours. It gives us extraordinary power, we know it … But despite this, we do not use it in its entirety. As some scientists remind us, we lack a real empathic commitment, because the feeling of empathy is not enough, it must be instrumentalized. Let's see this by following.
The empathic brain and its purpose
Ortega and Gasset affirmed that one without the other, without people other than us, the human being could not understand each other, nor could we understand the concept of society. Man appears in society as the Other, alternating with the One and at the same time with the reciprocal. What at first glance appears as a play on words configures a reality that goes beyond the philosophical and the neurological.
As Dr. Keysers mentioned earlier, mirror neurons are the ones that formed our idea of civilization. They allowed us to become aware of the other, of those we observe, of those who imitate us, and of those in whom we reflect. The empathic brain does not just allow us to understand the point of view of those who are in front of us. It helps us to anticipate their intentions and their needs because in a way we are the reflection of others, because for our brain, "the others" are also extensions of ourselves.
If we now wonder what the real purpose of empathy is, it is important to keep in mind that there is no single answer. We know that no other skill allows us to connect with others in such a fabulous way. However, Behavioral neurologists such as Vilayanur Ramachandran tell us that the goal of the empathic brain is not always to generate the good of others, we do not always seek to help or make humanitarian action conducive.
Empathy is not sympathy
Empathy is not synonymous with sympathy and often, and often we have other kinds of interests; as is the case in any social scenario …
Being able to introduce ourselves into foreign perspectives, to see the world with the eyes of others, is a weapon of power. This allows us to construct complex mental patterns with which we are able to know, for example, whether an individual present in front of us has bad intentions. We can even anticipate his reactions or use his weaknesses in our favor to manipulate him and make his emotions become personally beneficial.
Make empathy an asset to advance as a species
Dr. Ramachandran reminds us that mirror neurons have caused a fabulous genetic leap within our species. Thus, although other animal species are endowed with empathic capacities, these specialized cells present in the human being are at the origin of a sensational advance. They favored the appearance of culture, society, and civilization;
Our consciousness has widened, our reasoning has become more abstract and our way of interacting has become more sophisticated. We know that our interactions are sometimes cruel and violent, but they are also more humane, and oriented toward achieving well-being, order and balance. The empathic brain is the essence of our social relationships and our learning. Gradually, it will allow us to move in the right direction.
As we have pointed out, empathy is not always guided by a prosocial act. Each person shows different levels of empathy, mirror neurons do not work in the same way in all human beings and this affects social interaction, our ability to solve problems and our ability to coexist … Some scientists point out that mirror neurons have an evolutionary component which explains why its power can be different from one generation to the next …
Who knows if we will one day reach this power of connection allowing us to reach a harmonious reality, the balance and the respect of the ones of the others.