Friday, January 4, 2013

Response To David's Blog Post

This blog post is a response to David's recent blog post, "Children and Philosophy."Maybe the kid is a brat. Maybe he isn't. The article doesn't provide enough information to draw a sufficient conclusion. Lack of parenting/discipline can certainly cause a child to act "bratty." It wouldn't be accurate to judge American standards (where Cary writes his column) against the Korean culture (where David teaches). 

I will say that I was surprised by the intensity of the Korean educational system on children as young as five, and although David has told me that I would do well in such an educational system, after reading his post, I have to reconsider. Of course, it isn't quite fair to compare children to an adult; therefore, let's think back to when I was 5 years old. I couldn't sit still, interact with others, tie my shoes, and I was barely toilet trained.

As is rightly stated, childhood is about learning from experience, to experiment, understand, and learn. To do that, you need to be able to pick up social cues instinctively and respond in a manner that is "sensed" by others. When you have autism like I do, you have to be taught what is acceptable and what isn't.

I have to disagree with David's statement that empathy is the most important human trait. There is empathy, the ability to put yourself, in anther's shoes, to understand where they are coming from (perspective taking), and to react in an expected manner. Sharing (in David's example it is chestnuts) is a form of empathy, but sharing is not the total of empathy. I have no problem sharing. In fact, I've been known to give people to many gifts. However, the physical act of sharing with the absence of initiated and reciprocated emotion does not translate into genuine empathy regardless of the intent. Also, to properly empathize with another person, you must be able to instinctively react in an expected manner. I have to disagree that sharing equates to "true and genuine" empathy. 

For example, if someone  is sick and in the hospital, it is expected to give them a card. That is the physical act of giving something to someone. It is called sharing. I have been told things like cards and candy make sick people feel better. It is simple to do the physical act of giving a sick person a card. But most people expect you to feel sad, sorry, worried, etc. when you give the card. The absence of an appropriate and expected emotion in addition to the physical act is not real empathy. Empathy is not a physical act. Empathy involves responding emotionally in the expected manner.

Lack  of empathy is not caused by lack of discipline, although it can be, and good parenting and discipline can be (or not) related to empathy. Case in point. I have high-functioning autism, and I promise you that I most certainly didn't get everything I wanted (not even close) nor was their a lack of discipline. There are many reasons for lack of empathy expression, and a disability can be one of them.

"Appropriate" behavior is very different from empathy though. It's not related, but it can be. According to societies standards, appropriate behavior is "acting normal." But since "normal" is a setting on a dryer machine (and people aren't machines), appropriate behavior is extremely subjective. For the purposes of this note, we will say that inappropriate behavior is any action, word, etc. (since that's what a behavior is) that causes psychological, physical, mental, emotional, social, or any other harm to a person or people or interferes in some way in their life. For example, I used to have a need to log onto Facebook every day and rant to a particular person. This behavior was not appropriate as it was mentally and emotionally harming the person as it was taking up their time and annoying the person. This behavior was inappropriate, and I had to learn to find other outlets for my stress and anxiety. 

There are also "behaviors" that society deems as "inappropriate" because they don't make the person "look good." But, by definition, a behavior is not an art project, and it does not have to "look good" to others. For example, for those of us with autism spectrum disorders, we are often told that our fidget/stim/rock/flap/etc. is not appropriate because it doesn't "look right." However, if it is NOT interfering with anyone or anything else (or even our lives, it helps us in many ways), then it is not inappropriate. Of course if were to do this behavior on someone else (and it does happen) then it would be inappropriate because there is potential harm to another person or thing.


  1. Philosophical children are very interesting to me. And so are interpretations of their behaviour and thoughts (including "anarchy and self-centred behaviour", to paraphrase Children and Philosophy).

    About empathy and expectations:

    What about showing empathy in a situation where it would not be expected to do so?

    Or showing it in an unexpected fashion?

    There are many expected methods and manners of showing empathy.

    And you made a great point about "looking good" and "looking right". If a person is behaving congruously with her neurology and psychology, then it comes through.

    Art does not have to look good to be art, or conform to what is expected. (Some people do think of their behaviour as art, specifically performance art).

    Interference seems to be the crucial thing here.