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Unformatted text preview: oncept. Even if we assume empathy means feeling another's pain, or, even less than that, simply understanding the situation of another, it is not a particularly helpful term in the legal context. Specifically, it begs some important questions: To what extent can we truly feel another's pain, or even understand another's situation? And to what end do we seek this understanding? Tennessee Williams captures the conundrum underlying the first of these questions: "Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition--all such distortions within our own egos--condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions in our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other." Let me be clear--I am in no way dismissing the effort to achieve imaginative understanding of others, but it is important to realize that the effort, however well intentioned, is constrained by each individual's particular capabilities and limitations. We best understand that which conforms to our own experience, or at least to our own brand of experience. In order to bridge disparate types of experience, so as to facilitate empathy across a broader range of contexts, it is often necessary to emphasize commonalities, and to downplay perspectives that are not shared. This may effectively serve to perpetuate, rather than challenge, the status quo. Consider, for example, the dark underbelly of empathy, as illustrated in a recent notorious case. In that case, the defendant found his wife in bed with another man at midnight, chased the man away, drank and argued with his wife until four a.m., and then fatally shot her in the head with a hunting rifle. A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge sentenced the defendant to eighteen months in prison for voluntary manslaughter, saying "I seriously wonder how many men married five, four years would have the stren...
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- Fall '13