It used to be that someone who had empathy was born with a natural abundance of it through whatever random chance of DNA and life circumstance. The latter can certainly shift someone who once had empathy for other people into a more cold and calculating person who doesn’t flinch at things that hurt other people. In some cases, those who work in the medical industry have had to turn off any empathy in order to steel themselves in seeing the things they have to see on a daily basis.
But patients of those medical workers are the ones who suffer when a doctor doesn’t understand or relate to the pain the patient may be feeling. You hear plenty of complaints about doctors that don’t seem to comprehend a patient’s health problems and not seeming to show any emotion to those realities. Of course, the notion that you have to be in someone else’s shoes to truly understand the feelings of someone says everything.
Thanks to virtual simulation technology, there may be a way to do that, or at least as close as possible. Harvard is designing such a program intended to give you the feeling of being in the place of a victim so the tables are turned. Regardless, you have to wonder if empathy can truly be built with a simulated game not necessarily based on real life.
Just How Compelling is the Simulation?
In Harvard’s program, you deal with confrontations between various professional fictional people and learn about the perspectives of the opposing side. You learn everything about what they do, plus what their general philosophy and backgrounds are so you can see why they are the way they are. Supposedly, it’s based on what’s known in the real world to avoid making things up.
The goal here is to create empathy for all the hardships the opposing side may be going through so you can create ways to solve the confrontation. While sounding like an ancient role-playing game, it attempts to make the graphics as real as possible. Transcripts are even given so a student using the program can study the background of the opposing side more thoroughly before playing the game.
Any question would be in how compelling the graphics are to give a sense of the real. With so much in the media already perhaps desensitizing people to generate empathy, just learning about someone’s background may not be quite enough to bring a complete understanding of how people actually feel.
In that regard, we may have to wait for some kind of virtual reality technology down the road that makes people actually feel pain.
Do We Need More Extreme Simulations to Bring Widespread Empathy?
The above simulation program from Harvard is intended on perhaps stopping the problem of bullying in schools and in the online world. Yet, with bullying being so intense lately and seemingly unstoppable, do we need some kind of extreme tool that shows provocateurs what real pain is so they understand how their victims feel? Some students may get the feeling that just reading about someone’s background isn’t enough to really understand the concept of pain.
In the world of business, Harvard’s program may help more as a negotiation tool. Students who bully others usually don’t take the time to investigate their victims and unleash their torture on someone based on a quick judgment. Perhaps Harvard’s program would help after an initial bullying event, though you have to suspect we need a near “Clockwork Orange” approach to things in the worst offenders.
This might be controversial based on it being tantamount to torture. Nevertheless, someone feeling a simulated pain of another person may be the only way to shock the mind into truly feeling something. If only for a short time so it doesn’t cause excessive harm, far too many may be applicable already.
Then there’s those who may be the polar opposite and feel too much empathy for the plight of others. Those people are finding it harder to cope in a society displaying more pain than ever. They may need their own simulation in order to place the world’s pain in a larger perspective.