Guest post: Nick Keane – The woman screaming at her child “I hate you!”

Today’s post is from a guest blogger – Nick Keane from the NPIA. Nick is the Digital Engagement and Knowledge Business Advisor for policing in the UK, and can be found on Twitter at @NickKeane.

Nick Keane

The title of this blog came from a lecture given by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen at the LSE on Tuesday 3rd may 2011.

Professor Baron-Cohen is an expert on autism and has been carrying out research on cruelty and why people treat other people as objects. He argues that this occurs when people lack empathy (a fuller explanation of his work can be found in his latest book here – or by listening to the discussion on evil on Radio 4’s Start the Week here).

He defines empathy in two parts the cognitive – being able to recognise the other person’s emotional state and the affective – being able to respond appropriately. (I’m paraphrasing – there’s a better explanation in the book).

During his lecture, Professor Baron-Cohen gave examples of where people acted with an absence of empathy, this included experiment’s by the Nazis on fellow human beings, but it was the example in the title of this blog that resonated with me. The examples of the Nazis behaviour have the emotional distance that history grants us, the woman screaming at her child is far more prosaic and common place, we can imagine ourselves as the woman and we can imagine ourselves as the child.

People come to me with proposals around using social media which often involve having other people respond in a way that they want them to, they’ll share this link with their friends, they’ll engage in this meeting/discussion. And I frequently have to say “have you looked at it from your intended audience’s point of view?” “Have you thought why will they respond as you wish them to or why they may not?” And I frequently stress its social media; in most cases the everyday rules of human interaction still apply.

Using social media skilfully is a gift that few people have, myself included. But it is a skill and (and this is Professor Baron-Cohen’s conclusion) if we are practice seeing from the other person’s perspective and responding appropriately we become better at solving our problems.

“Empathy is like a universal solvent. Any problem immersed in it becomes soluble” Simon Baron-Cohen.

Have an excellent day and, if you wish, let me know what you think about this blog.

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