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Unformatted text preview: ___.__ _Vv_‘+w ~_—‘. Overcoming the Golden Rule: Sympathy and Empathy Milton J. Bennett ETMEEWflms-flfimfimmamm Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. . .. —Matthew 7:12 Many of the world‘s great religions include a dictum similar to the Golden Rule. 80 it is not surprising that the Rule embodies a basic truth: all of us are equally human, not just our family or compatriots. Yet we humans stiil flaunt the Rule in both the par— oxysms of genocide and the everyday destructiveness of preju- dice and bigotry. Why is the wisdom of the Golden Rule so elu- sive? One reason may be that we commonly apply the Rule in a way that actually obstructs our path toward intercultural under standing. The Golden Rule is typically used as a kind of template for behavior. If] am unsure of how to treat you, 1 simply imagine how I myself would like to be treated, and then act in accori dance. The positive value ofthis form ofthe Rule is virtually axi- omatic in US. American culture, and so its underlying assump— tion frequently goes unstated: other people want to be treated as I do. And under this assumption lies another, more pernicious belief: all people are basically the same, and thus they really should want the same treatment (whether they admit it or not) as I would. Simply stated, the Golden Rule in this form does not work I91 192 BASlC CONCEPTS because people are actually different from one another. Not only are they individually different, but they are systematically differ— ent in terms of national culture, ethnic group, socioeconomic sta- tus, age, gender, sexual orientation, political allegiance, educa- tional background, and profession, to name but a few possibili— ties. Associated with these differences in people are differences in values—values which cannot easily be generalized to all people from those of any given group. That people are different may appear obvious to readers of this article, but it is simply not a widely held notion among people in generaliincluding those who are wellaeducated. Many teachr ers and trainers of intercultural communication find that while most people acknowledge superficial behavioral differences in dress, custom, language, and so on, it takes but a scratch ofthis surface to encounter a basic belief in the essential similarity of all people. The statement indicative of this belief is, “Once you get used to their different (dress, manners, style), they're just like us!" Attempts to point out more fundamental value differences may even be met by hostilityman indication of how central the assumption of similarity is to our worldview. in addition to denying difference, the Golden Rule is also a poor guide for effective communication. Assuming that others are like ourselves when We talk to them is tantamount to talking to ourselves. We fail to recognize the crucial differences to which our communication must be accommodated, and our efforts to understand and be understood are subverted by a facade of unis formity. This effort to expose the bias of the Golden Rule will take us into some philosophical assumptions, some concepts of social organization, and some communication techniques, or strate— gies. On the philosophical level, we will consider first the as— sumption ofsimilarig/ and its relationship to theories of single- reality. This philosophical orientation will be seen to manifest in the social concepts of the melting pot and ethnocentrr‘sm. The communication strategy associated with these ideas is sympaa thy. Contrasting on the philosophical level will be the assumption of diflerence and its relationship to theories of multiplearealigl. Communication based on the assumption of difference is empa- thy. Finally, we will consider some ways in which empathy might be developed and implemented toward the goal of intercultural communication. MILTON J. BENNETT 193 Similarity and Single-Reality The strongest statement of the assumption of similarity holds that all human beings are basically the same. in this view, physia ological, personality, and even cultural differences which might be observed are mainly superficial. Underlying these permutaa tions is a basic "human nature” that transcends time, cultural boundaries, and individual predilection. The assumption ofsimi- larity is not just a passive perspectiveiit also defines what will be actively sought. Thus, the observer notes and imputes impor- tance to human similarities while ignoring or downgrading the importance of human differences. The assumption of similarity is represented in philosophy by both idealists and eumpirr'cists.I idealists hold that the universe (in; cluding human beings) has a permanent, ideal form. Human be- ings may discover their true nature by perceiving this form and adapting themselves to it. The current resurgence of mysticism and fundamentalist religion is, in many ways, a reawakening of this Platonic idealism. Most mystics and charismatics teach that there is a true, transcendent reality which, when it is perceived, illuminates the seeker with the knowledge that this single—real- ity exists within each individual. In this view, differences among people are ephemeral phenomena of the lower planes of exis- tence, superficial in relation to the essential unity ofhigher planes. Empiricists take a different route to the assumption ofsimi— larity. There is no transcendent reality; there is only the observa able world of matter and energy. While this observable reality would seem to be inherently diverse, there is a catch. The catch is that only that which is observed is diverse. The observers (people) are necessarily similar in their ability to observe the same thing, given similar circumstances. This is the essence of scien- tific replicability. Ifa phenomenon cannot be observed by many people, it is simply assumed not to exist. Ofcourse, this necessi— tates the beliefthat all people, properly trained, can and do see the same real phenomena. Most other forms of the assumption ofsimilarity can be seen to derive from these two philosophical positions. For instance, evangelical religions such as many forms of Christianity and is- lam take the idealist stance that there is one truth, and that all people should have a similar knowledge of it. The growing field of ethnobiology argues from an empirical base that people are similar one to another in their adherence to some basic primate behavior. Transformational linguistics suggests that peeple are I94 BASIC Concerns essentially similar in basic language “competence”—an example of the Platonic ideal form. And, ofcourse, social sciences such as psychology and sociology base their empirical observations on the statistical similarity ofa normative population. The theories mentioned above are only a few examples ofa general category which can be called "singlerreality" theory. The basic assumption inherent in this category is that there is one way that things really are. in this view, reality is not invented by our observational categories; it is discovered through either philo- sophical/religious (idealist) insight or through objective (empiris cist) observation. An indicator of the idealist approach to single reality is some form of the statement, "If only we develop suffis cient (wisdom, faith, knowledge, discipline, insight), we will know the true nature of the universe." An indicator of the empiricist approach is the statement, “We don't know it all yet, but with sufficient (experiments, categorization, instrumentation, expla— nation) we will figure out how things really work." The Golden Rule depends on single-reality theory to fuel its underlying assumption of similarity. if there were not a single, discoverable reality, we could never be sure whether the similar— ity we observed was "really" the case, or whether it was merely a function of our point of view. if similarity were only a matter of perspective, then we might have to consider that other people had diyferent points of view, which might lead them to observe entirely different kinds of similarity (or difference) between them4 selves and us. in this case, the Golden Rule wouldn't work at all, and we would be thrust into a much more complex, relativistic world. So we preserve the comfortable assumptions of the Golden Rule and the single reality it represents. The Melting Pot and Ethnocentrism The ramifications of preserving the Golden Rule are not restricted to the abstractions of philosophy. There are several social conse- quences ofsinglesreality theory and the assumption ofsimilarity. Two of these consequences of interest to intercultural communi- cation are "the melting pot“ and “ethnocentrism.” The melting—pot concept is a source of major concern to minorities in this country who might wish to maintain an ethnic identity different to some extent from the mainstream culture. The term melting pot was coined by israel Zangwill in a play by that title written in 192 1. America is God's Crucible, the great Melting Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and re- forminngere you stand good folk. . .with your fifty MILTON l, BENNETT I95 languages and histories... But you won’t be long like that brothers, for these are the fires of God you come toithese are the fires ofGod.2 Unenlightened as it might sound today, the idea of the melt- ing pot is actually a relatively liberal holdover from the colonial period ofAmerican history. in those days and up until World War 1, many thought that the fusion of ethnic differences in America would lead to a great civilization ofsupermen.3 But as a stronger mainstream culture developed, the original melting-pot idea transformed into the ideal of assimilation and Americanization. Americanization is a specific case ofcultural assimilation in general. The Americanizing melting pot did not merely amals gamate difference; it molded it into the prevailing American culr tural pattern. 50, although the end result ofboth kinds ofmelting was similarity, the original melting pot at least suggested a unique product. The more recent use ofthe concept seems clearly based on single-reality theory, where mainstream American culture is the one true frame of reference. We hear today widespread disavowal of the melting pot in favor of some form of “cultural pluralism." A good part of this disavowai, when it comes from mainstreamers, may be insub— stantialiy rhetorical. In most cases, it is simply not evident that there has occurred the philosophical shift away from a single— reality assumption that would necessarily underlie a strong com- mitment to pluralism. Such a commitment demands the kind of multiple—reality assumption discussed in a later section of this article. The best that can be hoped for under the single~reaiity theory is a kind of tolerance for “second—best" cultural patterns. This stance obviously does not address the severe negative value judgments that characterize so much interethnic and intercul— tural communication. Related to the idea of an Americanizing melting pot is the concept ofethnocentrism. This tendency to see our own culture as the center of the universe—that is, as the true reality—affects all intercultural communication, including interethnic relations. in fact, ethnocentrism is the most appropriate label for the singles reality assumption ofsimilarity in a cultural context. This can be seen clearly in Richard E. Porter and Larry A. Samovar’s defini— tion ofthe concept: A major source ofculturai variance in attitudes is ethnocentrism, which is a tendency to view people unconsciously by using our own group and our own customs as the standard for all judgments. . .. [96 BASIC Concerns The greater their similarity to us, the nearer to us we place them; the greater the dissimilarity, [the] farther away they are... We tend to see our own groups, our own country, our own culture as the best, as the most moral. This view also demands our first loyalty and produces a frame of reference that denies the existence of any other frame of reference. it is an absolute position that prohibits any other position from being appropriate for an- other culture“ From the above description, it is understandable why Jon A. Blubaugh and Dorothy L. Pennington state that “ethnocentrism seems to be at the root of racism.”5 In a parallel development to the rhetorical call for cultural pluralism, we hear today a cry for “intercultural understanding." Again, this cry is meaningless ifit is not accompanied by a shift away from that essential ingredient of ethnocentrism, the assump tion of similarity. Unless we can accept that other groups of people are truly different—that is, they are operating successfiiily accord- ing to different values and principles of realityithen we cannot exhibit the sensitivity nor accord the respect to those differences that will make intercultural communication and understanding possible. The continued existence of melting—pot ideas and ethnocen- trism is facilitated by their inherent connection to the Golden Rule. We really want to use our own values as the basis for our behavior toward others. It is easier (we don't need to imagine different values), and it somehow seems so moral. When we find, no matter how much we try to ignore it, that many other people don’t respond to this treatment, we face a choice. Either we must alter our behavior (and underlying assumptions), or we must al- ter the unresponsive people. Supported by the ethnocentric con- viction that those other people are somehow wrong or ignorant, we choose the latter course. Perhaps, we hope, after they are educationally melted into the proper configuration, they will re— spond as they should to our Golden Rule behavior. Of course, some people seem impervious to the fires ofGod. For them, we have a different rule, which can be labeled the “Lead Rule." The Lead Rule dictates "Do unto others as they deserve having done unto them." ifpeople are unresponsive to our wells motivated Golden Rule behavior, and ifthey will not be helped to become similar, then we may assume that they are “mad or bad.”6 if we assume they are mad, we may extend our educational ef— MILTON J. BENNEi'r i9? forts into therapy. A prime indicator of the Lead Rule being em- ployed therapeutically is the statement, "We're only doing this for your own good." if we assume they are bad, we may try to punish them. ifthey do not respond to punishment, then We may be compelled to employ the full force ofthe Lead Rule, which is to kill them. Sympathy So far, we have been considering general behavior and its un— derlying philosophical assumptions. in situations of actual face~ toaface interaction, these general behavioral tendencies take the form of specific communication techniques, or strategies. The strategy which is most closely allied with the Golden Rule and its attendant assumptions is sympathy Although the term sympathy is used variably, it will be used here to mean “the imaginative placing of ourselves in another person’s position."7 it should be understood by this definition that we are not taking the role of another person or imagining how the other person thinks or feels, but rather we are referencing how we ourselves might think or feel in similar circumstances. For instance, if! tell you that my aunt has recently died, you might sympathize by imagining how you would feel (or have felt) about your aunt dying. This definition is not restricted to cases of so- cially defined sorrow, however. it would also be sympathy ifi tell you that I just inherited a million dollars, and you respond by imagining how you would feel as a millionaire. in a following section, this definition ofsympathy will be con trasted to the notion ofempathy For the time being, suffice it to say that empathy concerns how we might imagine the thoughts and feelings of other people from their own perspectives. This distinction is fairly consistent with Lauren G. Wispe in the Inter— nationai Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: “In empathy, one at- tends to the feelings of another; in sympathy one attends to the suffering ofanother, but the feelings are one's own.”8 Note, how; ever, that here sympathy is not restricted to cases of suffering. The difference between sympathy and empathy is not defined by either the degree or the subject of concern; it is defined by whose perspective is being assumed. Probably the easiest way to think of sympathy is as projec- tion. Following the assumption of similarity, we merely assume that the other person is like ourselves and therefore impute to him or her our own thoughts and feelings. In its least sophistie cated form, sympathy projects both the self and the circumstances it?“ 198 BASIC Coucsprs ofthe sympathizer onto the perceived situation. Imagine, for ex— ample, that a middle-class suburbanite is interacting with a poor person living in the inner city. Pure projection might lead the sub- urbanite to suggest that the poor person get a job and shop care fully for inexpensive groceries—an assumption that the suburs ban circumstances ofjob opportunity, competitive prices, and transportation are all available to the innerucity dweller, as well as the motivation assumed by the suburbanite herself. Project- ing only self, the suburbanite might imagine how she herself would feel in the poor person's circumstancesiperhaps frus— trated, and certainly anxious to take the first opportunity to es— cape into a "better" environment. (Note that this might not be at all how the poor person feels.) It is apparently possible to increase the sophistication ofsym— pathy quickly. I once asked a group of (assumediy) upper-middle class white high school students what they would do for recre— ation ifthey had grown up in a ghetto. Quickly, several students replied with such projective responses as "go bowling,” or “go swimming,” or “drive around.” I suggested that they might have neither the facilities nor the money to do those things. There was a silence, and then one boy spoke up with a clearly more sophisa ticated sympathetic suggestion: “jog!” The general category of projective sympathy can be divided into two major ways of responding sympathetically to another person.- referencing our own memory, here referred to as remi— niscent sympathy; and referencing our own imagination ofself in different circumstances, here termed imaginative sympathy. Of these two, reminiscent sympathy is probably the most common. With the technique of reminiscent sympathy, we search our past experience for circumstances that seem similar to those observed as connected to the other person’s experience. For in- stance, ifyou report to me that you have a drinking problem, I might try to remember some time when I felt compelled to drink. Assuming that i find such a circumstance in my own life, I would then try to reconstruct my feelings at that time and attempt to use them as a guide for further conversation or counsel. An indi- cator of the reminiscent sympathy technique is the statement, “I know just how you feelfil was there myself.” Note that my feel- ings about drinking may be totally dissimilar to yours, but the desire to assume similarity is strong. The apparent unassailability of the reminiscent sympathy technique is part ofthe reason why reformed alcoholics, former prisoners, cured schizophrenics, and other “experienced” people MILTON J. BENNETT [99 are so frequently considered credible counselors in their respec- tive areas ofexperience. A parallel to this beiiefin minority rela— tions is the assumption that only a Latino American, Native Ameri- can, or African American can speak credibly to the problems encountered by his or her respective ethnic group. This credibili ity is frequently not undeserved and many such "survivors" are apparently extremely effective in their work.9 However, caution should be exercised in assuming that exposure to certain cir— cumstances is a sufficient qualification for political, educational, or counseling expertise in the area. Having experienced a tooth- ache does not make one a dentist. There is also a danger that a strong experience, although potentially a valuable tool, can limit our consideration of differ- ent reactions to the same circumstances. For instance, some femi- nists seem to assume that all women do (or should) have the same reaction to being female in this culture. The failure to recs ognize different reactions is most likely when reminiscent sym- pathy is the only technique of understanding employed. When it is, the Golden Rule takes a kind of retroactive form, reading, “Do unto others as you would have liked to have had done unto you in similar circumstances.“ imaginative sympathy involves the referencing ofour imagi- nation ofourselves in different circumstances. This is probably a more sophisticated process than is the use of memory, but it in- volves a similar referencing ofself rather than the other person. An example of imaginative sympathy might involve your inform- ing me of your recent miraculous escape from an automobile accident. Having never had a serious automobile accident to re— member, I might search for an appropriate response by imaginl ing how I would feel in that circumstance. But no matter how I imagine I might feel, my response bears no necessary relation; ship to how you actually do feel. Nevertheless, as usual, it is likely that the Golden Rule will permit me the assumption of similarity necessary to think I understand your feelings. In these cases, the Rule reads "Do unto others as you imagine you would like to have done unto you in similar circumstances." Fund appeals for humanitarian causes commonly attempt to elicit an imaginative sympathy reaction from readers. For in— stance, a recent issue of the New Yorker magazine displayed a fund appeal topped by a picture of a young Asian girl dressed in a dirty but frilly dress, her hair disheveled but beribboned, and her face set in a plaintive but cute expression. The large-type caption under the picture reads “Tina has never had a Teddy Bear." 200 BASIC CONCEPTS I suspect that the creators of this appeal are assuming that most readers of the New Yorker had teddy bears in their childhood. Further assuming that these teddy bears are remembered fondly by the readers, the fund appealers ask the readers to imagine what it would be like not to have had a teddy bear. The discom— fort occasioned by this imagining ofa deprived selfwill then, it is hoped. motivate some check-writing behavior. 1 don‘t really think there is anything wrong with this kind of sympathetic altruism. It is certainly well-motivated, and it prob- ably doesn’t do much harm. However, sympathetic altruism may not be addressing the real needs ofthose whom we want to help. We should at least ask, “But does Tina want a teddy bear?” While a Peace Corps volunteer in Truk (Chuuk), Micronesia, [ happened to be near the receiving end of several gestures of sym- pathetic altruism. One particularly amusing example was the an- nual Navy airdrop of Christmas presents. it was a great show: a giant airplane swooping low over the island and disgorging a bom— bardment of cosmetics. candy, and plastic toys. While the Navy's image was undoubtedly a factor in this action, it still was a pleas- ant enough thing to do. How much better it would have been, however, if the plane had dropped cloth, ballpoint pens, and per— fume—the really valuable gifts from the Trukese point of view. I‘m afraid l was a part of another sympathetic gesture toward the Trukese. My training group decided that creating a water sys— tem for the island would be a great help to our hosts. Our hosts themselves seemed more inclined toward a school building, but since the island already had one school building and since We incidentally already had the plastic pipe, we pushed the water project. The island leaders finally gave a reluctant go-ahead and we began work, secure in the knowledge that the project's great sanitation and convenience benefits would soon become appar- ent. The Trukese men helped us with what i only later could rec- ognize as a bemused and tolerant attitude. The following events occurred in the next year: even after warnings, several plastic pipes were melted shut during field burning,- the island children took to swimming and urinating in the water tanks; inter-village quarrels were punctuated by late- night machete raids on the pipes; the island women continued to lug their wash up the mountain to a stream, where they could socialize as before; and arguments occurred over who had the right to turn the water on and off. Finally, the water system died a merciful death and a school building project was begun. [t was a wonderful lesson in the unplanned consequences of sympa- thetic altruism. MILTON J. BENNETT 201 Advantages and Disadvantages of Sympathy So far, we have seen a rather bleak picture of the sympathetic strategy. in this final consideration of sympathy, I will suggest some possible advantages ofsympathy as well as summarize its disadvantages. Advantages of using a sympathetic communication strategy include the following: 1. Sympathy is easy. Most ofus are distressed to some extent by unfamiliarity, and we prefer to identify phenomena with pre existing categories. With people, the most familiar frame of reference is ourselves, and so we prefer to generalize from ourselves to others—the basic process of assuming similar— ity. Depending on the situation, we may use reminiscent or imaginative sympathy techniques to enable this kind of gen— eralization. 2. Sympathy is credible. Credibility is a major factor in the sucs cess of reminiscent sympathy. Because the assumption of similarity is widespread, many people really believe that simi- lar circumstances yield similar experience. We are then likely to give credence to those who have "been through it." While experience may indeed give a person many valuable insights, much of the effectiveness of an experienced person may de— rive from the attribution of credibility itself. Given this cred- ibility, we may even modify our own feelings to correspond with those of the experienced person. 3. Sympathy is often accurate. The accuracy of sympathetic un— derstanding is not a function ofits process. Rather, it derives from our tendency to surround ourselves with truly similar people. Attraction to similarity is a pervasive phenomenon.lo Insofar as we interact mainly with truly similar people, our sympathetic generalizations yield relatively accurate assump- tions about those carefully selected others. In these situa~ tions of similarity, accuracy should be greatest for imaginas tive sympathy because it can take into account minor differ- ences in circumstance. Reminiscent sympathy should give second—best results because of its greater rigidity, but its greater credibility may equalize its effectiveness. As sympa— thy becomes increasingly less sophisticated, it yields accu— rate assumptions only in nearly identical situations with ex- tremely similar people. 4. Sympathy may be comforting. Sometimes people are comforted by knowing that another person has encountered similar cir— 202 BASIC CONCEPTS cumstances, even ifhis or her experience of the circumstances was different. This advantage of reminiscent sympathy seems most apparent in the case of illness, where the unique expe- rience of a particular illness may be perceived as secondary in importance to the mere fact ofthe sympathizer having had the same disease. In addition, a sympathetic approach may be comfortable for people who would prefer not to disclose their actual, possibly different, feelings or thoughts about certain circumstances. The disadvantages ofa sympathetic communication strategy can be summarized as follows: i . Sympathy is insensitive to dyjfei'ence. Despite our best efforts to interact only with truly similar people, we are frequently thrown into communication situations where others prob ably think and feel differently. These situations include at least communication with people from different national cultures, ethnic groups, socioeconomic status, age groups, genders, sexual orientation, political persuasion, educational back- ground, and profession. In these and other situations, sym- pathetic understanding is likely to be inaccurate at best, and probably will impede effective communication. 2. In the face of diflerence, sympathy is patronizing. Generalizing exclusively from our own frame of reference carries with it all the connotations of ethnocentrism. One of these conno- tations is that our own experience is the best standard with which to measure the world. People with different views of the world may feel that their thoughts and feelings are being devalued. It is not unusual for both persons in a sympathetic communication to feel patronized, each by the other. 3. In the face ofa‘ijference, sympathy breeds defensiveness. When we feel our different views of the world are ignored or deval- ued by others, we may take on a defensive posture to protect what we think is a successful organization of phenomena. Sympathetic strategies cannot help but ignore or devalue dif- ference, since they are based on a strong assumption ofsimiw larity. Communication is hindered by defensiveness,” and sympathy appears to be a major factor contributing to that defensiveness. 4. Sympathy helps perpetuate the assumption ofsimilarigz. Sym— pathy not only implements the Golden Rule; it also perpetu- ates it. Our choice of communication strategy and our as- sumptions about the nature of people are interactive. While MILTON J. BENNETT 203 sometimes we may choose a strategy that is adapted to a given reality, we may more often manipulate our assump tions about reality so that a given strategy continues to work. Insofar as we choose sympathy and the Golden Rule, we will tend to ignore difference in favor ofseeing the similarity nec- essary to our strategy. We have now seen how the everyday use of the Golden Rule derives from an assumption of essential similarity among hu man beings_an assumption that is consistent with single-real; ity theory. The communication strategy that implements the Golden Rule is sympathy, which involves some form of general- izing thoughts and feelings from our own frame of reference. Although sympathy may yield acceptable understanding of oth— ers in situations ofactual similarity, it appears to have many dis— advantages in situations where human difference is encountered. The point which might best be derived from the preceding discussion is not that the Golden Rule and its attendant assump- tions and strategies never work. In its most abstract form, the Rule might limit some of the cruelties of dehumanization. But the effectiveness ofsimilarity—based approaches is severely limw ited by the existence of human diversity. Specific Golden Rule strategies don’t work outside of an environment carefully con- trolled for actual similarity, and the world is decreasingly favor- able to that circumstance. The Assumption of Difference and Multiple—Reality In contrast to the assumption that all people are basically simi- lar, we could assume that each human being is essentially unique. A closer look at the apparent homogeneity of human beings re- veals an underlying heterogeneity ofalmost unimaginable scope. It becomes clear that the categories we use for assuming univeri sal similarity are broad generalizations that can only be made at a distance—a distance preserved by abstractions such as the Golden Rule. Ifwe reject the Golden Rule in favor of seeking difference, an astonishing diversity of human characteristics rapidly becomes apparent. Not only are these differences obvious in language and culture, but they are also observable on the physiological level. People differ in their fingerprints, brain-wave patterns, voice pat- terns, blood composition, and genetic codes. While the need to eat might appear absolute from a distance, a closer look reveals some people who do not eat for long periods without ill effect. We also find people who can exist in a normally fatal oxygen-defi— é . . an as l-‘EEK‘JEEW . 204 BASIC CONCEPTS cient atmosphere,i2 and others who are able to start and stop their heartbeat at will. '3 Even those basic categories of similarity—male and female—are only generalizations. Physiological sexual char— acteristics are actually distributed along a continuum ranging from completely male to completely female.” Medical doctors, who are aware of these differences, know better than to treat one person's dysfunction in exactly the same way as another's. Bracketed by language and cultural differences on one side and physiological differences on the other, people also differ in— dividually in their psychological patterns. The process whereby individuals create unique views of the world has been explored by the psychologist George A. Kelly. In his personal—construct theory, he states the fundamental postulate that "A person’s pro— cesses are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events!”5 By this, he means that each of us is, by definition, an organizer ofevents, and that the particular organi- zation which we develop constitutes our experience. This orga- nization is considered by Kelly to be a process of construing, defined as “placing an interpretation.” Events are anticipated by "construing their replications."16 Thus, in Kelly's View, our expe- rience is created by the way in which we construe events. Kelly goes on to state that “persons differ from each other in their construction of events“? By this he means simply that we can and do construe precisely the same events in different ways. Since experience is a function of this construing, it follows that experience is not inextricably connected to events. Experience is made up of the successive constru— ing of events. It is not constituted merely by the succession ofevents themselves. A person can be a witness to a tremendous parade of episodes and yet, if he fails to keep making something out of them. ..he gains little in the way ofexperience from having been around when they happened. It is not what happens around him that makes a man exu perienced; it is the successive construing and reconstruing of what happens...that enriches the experience ofhis Iife.‘8 Obviously, Kelly’s view of events and experience is directly opposed to that supposed by the assumption of similarity. It fol- lows from his assumption of difference that the encountering of similar circumstances does not in any way guarantee that two people's experience of those circumstances will be similar. And, of course, without the essential connection of circumstances and MILTON J. BENNETT 205 experience, the communication strategy of sympathy becomes worthless as a general technique for understanding others. We have seen, however, that sympathy does seem to work in some situations of actual similarity. If we are as different as has been implied so far, how can these situations ever come about? Kelly addresses this question: “To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his psychological processes are similar to those of the other person."'9 So, if constructions of experience can somehow be guided into similar paths, some level of actual similarity might occur. The major guide for constructions of reality is culture. In Kelly's view, we create culture by assuming similarity. When we Observe that other people have encountered similar circumstances, we assume that they are similar to ourselves. In interaction, this as- sumption takes the form ofexpectations. Other people perceive these expectations and tend to behave in accordance with them. Thus, according to Kelly, “Cultural similarity between persons [is] essentially a similarity in what they perceive is expected of them."20 It is, then, the assumption ofsimilarity which creates the actual similarity. This circular process of culture would seem to result in wide- spread actual similarity if it were not for one important factor: different people and groups assume different kinds of similarity. Japanese people, for instance, may assume a significant level of similarity among themselves, but the nature of that similarity is radically different from that assumed by mainstream Americans among themselves. Specifically, Japanese may accurately assume that they are similar among themselves in "family loyalty," and Americans may accurately assume that they are similar among themselves in "desire for individual freedom," but neither assump— tion applies accurately to the other group. As noted earlier, this difference in the nature of intragroup similarity also appears to characterize ethnic groups, socioeconomic strata, professions, and so on. Each group, no matter how small, has its unique set of expectations (values) which maintains the group identity. And even within groups, each individual differs from every other in— dividual in precise expectations about how events will be con— strued. The assumption of difference is consistent with theories of multiple—reality. These theories contend, as does personal—con- struct theory, that reality is not a given, discoverable quantity. Rather, it is a variable, created quality. In philosophy, this view is 206 Basrc CONCEPTS represented by phenomenology and various neophenomenologi- cal systems which are presently exploring the philosophical im- plications of modern physics. The idea ofprimary importance in these theories is the relativity of frame of reference. Relative frame of reference, although it has a rather precise meaning in physics, can be considered generally as the change in apparent reality that accompanies a change in observational perspective. This idea is fundamental to the assumption of dif ference as it affects human interaction. When we communicate, we are operating on the pragmatic level ofapparent reality. The pitfall of sympathy is the assumption that reality appears the same to both participants in the situation. The alternative to this stance is to assume a relative frame of reference, where our view of reality may be apparent only to ourselves. As we will see, the placing ofourselves in a relative frame of reference is conducive to empathy. Another philosophy that contributes to the assumption of dif- ference is systems theory. Ofparticular interest is the quality of a system called equyinaligx. This principle states that in any given system, we may achieve the same goal by starting at different points and by using different processes within the system.” Kelly states the same idea for people: “TWo people can act alike even if they have been exposed to quite different phenomenal stimuli."22 Both these equifinality ideas contrast with the similarity assump- tion that particular experience is necessarily connected to par— ticular circumstances. If we consider society as a system and apply the principle ofequifinality, we see that people exposed to differ- ent circumstances may have very similar experiences. Reversing this, people encountering similar circumstances may have dif~ ferent experiences. The practical implication of equifinality is that there are many ways ofskinning a cat. Although such aphorisms normally state the obvious, it is surprising how often we seem to neglect this simple statement of relativity. When we encourage others to take a particular trip because it is exciting or to see a certain movie because it is meaningful, we have failed to recognize that those activities may not elicit the same feelings at all in other people. Further, we may also ignore the fact that feelings of excitement and meaningfuiness may be engendered in others by quite dif~ ferent activities. Apparently, it is one thing to quote the aphorism and quite another to really believe that bowling and yachting may be experienced similarly. In the social sciences, proponents of multipleereality theo- ries include Gregory Bateson,23 Paul Watzlawick,“ and Ronald MILTON J. BENNETT 207 David Laing.25 These and other theorists agree that the reality we experience is a variable matter of perception and communica- tion.26 Perception itself is highly variable, particularly in cross- cultural situations," and the rules ofcommunication seem even more mutable.28 Considering these changing factors, we might wonder that anyone ever understands anyone else at ail. That we do sometimes understand each other seems to be largely a function of overcoming the Golden Rule, which denies these dif- ferences in perception and communication altogether. Empathy The communication strategy most appropriate to multiple—real— ity and the assumption of difference is empathy. Like sympathy, this term is also used variably. In everyday usage, it is often de— fined as standing in another person’s shoes, as intense sympa— thy, as sensitivity to happiness rather than to sadness, and as a direct synonym for sympathy. In the literature, empathy has been defined as objective motor mimicry; as the understanding of people who have no emotional significance to us,-29 and as "a state in which an observer reacts emotionally because he per- ceives another experiencing or about to experience an emotion.”0 Here I will use the definition “the imaginative intellectual and emotional participation in another person’s experience.“ This definition is most consistent with the treatments of empathy by Carl R. Rogers32 and by Robert L. Katz.” As sympathy was defined as "the imaginative placing of our— selves in another person’s position,” empathy can be defined in terms of two important contrasts in focus. In empathy, we "par— ticipate" rather than "place," and we are concerned with "experi- enCe” and “perspective” rather than “position.” Placing ourselves in another person's position assumes, as we have seen, essen- tial similarity ofexperience with the other, making it sufficient to merely change places with him or her. In contrast, participation in another's experience does not assume essential similarity. The other’s experience might be quite alien, even if his or her posi- tion is similar. Thus, we need to do more than merely change places or stand in the other person's shoes. We need to get in side the head and heart ofthe other, to participate in his or her experience as if we were really the other person. This process may be referred to as “perspective taking." My wife and l have discovered some differences between sym- pathy and empathy in our own cross-gender communication. One minor example is our experience dealing with each other during 208 BASIC Cowcerrrs slight illnesses. When I am sick, i like to be left absolutely alone (in autonomous suffering). When my wife is sick, she likes to be grandly attended to (in relational nurturance). When we were first married, I would express my sympathy for her being sick by leaving her absolutely alone. And she, ofcourse, would sympa- thize by asking me how I felt every ten minutes or 50. After some years ofwonderment at how cantankerous we both were when sick, we found that we had different expectations about how sick people should be treated. Now we try to empathize rather than sympathize. By imagining the other person's experience ofbeing sick, we treat each other differently than we would like to be treated ourselves. We have, at least in this area, overcome the Golden Rule. In interethnic communication, an empathy strategy might solve many misunderstandings that derive exclusively from a misplaced assumption of similarity. Perhaps addressing these face-to-face misunderstandings will eventually influence the larger social manifestations of the Golden Rule. One such every— day case noted by Thomas Kochman concerns black/white male fighting patterns. He observes that, contrary to some stereotypes, whites usually throw the first punch in schoolyarditype fights between blacks and whites. Apparently, when certain words are used by the black, the white imagines how he himselfwould feel using those words. He discovers through this sympathy that he would be about ready to strike physically. So, with this assump- tion of imminent violence, the white strikes first. The black may be surprised at this attack, since he was "just talking"—still a long verbal development away from an actual fight. lfboth people in this situation empathized rather than sympathized, they might realize that they had different experiences of the same verbal circumstances.“ A favorite example of intercultural empathy is the news pic- ture ofHenry Kissinger, then US. secretary ofstate, holding hands side by side with the then-president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat. Kissinger was obviously behaving in a way appropriate to Sadat's experience of male hand holding, rather than reacting to what probably is his own, culturally conditioned experience of that event. In the above cases, empathy describes a shift in perspective away from our own to an acknowledgment of the other person's different experience. This shift in perspective is often accompa- nied by a willingness to participate in the other person‘s experia ence, at least to the extent of behaving in ways appropriate to MILTON J. BENNETT 209 that experience. And, in all cases, the empathic strategy is the opposite ofthat called for by the Golden Rule. preople really are different, and ifwe want to understand, respect, and enjoy those differences, then clearly we must begin by overcoming the Golden Rule. 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Bennett - ___.__ _Vv_‘+w ~_—‘. Overcoming the Golden...

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