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On sympathy and pity and lack of it

Some people are very hardhearted, very calloused, lacking, in general, in feeling or pity for others. What makes them this way? What causes a person to be just naturally hardhearted, without feeling towards others?

Let me ask this: What causes me to feel pity or sympathy for another? Do I always feel sympathy for another person who is in some kind of trouble or difficulty? No. Not necessarily. Suppose I happened into an incident in which I saw some bully brutally beating some young child. Then, before I had a chance to do anything, suddenly some big fellow appeared from nowhere, grabbed the bully and slugged him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Would I feel any sympathy for the bully? No. I would feel the bully got what he deserved and would feel no pity for him. So I don’t just automatically feel sympathy for anyone who is hurting or suffering or in trouble. More is involved. If a person is in trouble or hurting or suffering through no fault of his own, I may feel sympathy for him. However, if he is in trouble or hurting or suffering through what I feel is his own fault I will have much less or no sympathy for him. If someone is in big financial trouble because they have lived way above their means, I am not likely to feel any sympathy for them. Their predicament is from their own foolishness, of their own making, and I feel no sympathy. If, however, someone has suddenly developed some terrible, perhaps fatal, disease I will feel sorry for them. It wasn’t their fault and I will feel sad for them, wish I could help them. I might feel sympathy for a young homeless child in some slum in some third world country because I feel he hasn’t had much of a chance in life. I am not likely to feel any sympathy, however, for some young fellow who is sent to prison for selling drugs because I will feel he chose a life of crime because of the big money it offered and he deemed that path better than working for a living. He deserved what he got. So, whether I feel sympathy or not is connected to my value system, my personal moral standards and outlooks. I make personal judgments on the right and wrong of people’s behavior and if bad behavior or stupidity gets them into trouble my sympathy is limited. I expect people to act properly, responsibly, intelligently. If they act stupidly, foolishly or badly and that gets them into trouble my sympathy for them will be limited.

After making the above reflections, something occurs to me. Perhaps I am talking about something that separates liberals from conservatives. I am a conservative person and probably most conservative people think much the same as I. Liberals think differently. They have a different moral outlook, different ideas, a different way of looking at things than I do. In their outlook, everyone is just a product of their environment; morality is just a matter of personal opinion; everyone is just a helpless victim of this or that, a victim of the system. The person is never at fault, the fault always lies elsewhere. Everyone is to be pitied, no one is to be blamed. Everyone is just an animal with natural animal appetites. People live immoral, dissolute lives, they live like animals, and that is just human nature and they are not to be blamed for that. The mind and moral outlooks of the liberal are just very different from mine. And consequently they are much more lenient in their moral judgments. Everyone is good, no one is bad. There is no moral accountability.


The truth is the most of the problems that most people have are of their own making. I don’t feel much pity for people who are suffering from problems of their own making.

All of what I have said does not answer my original question: Why are some people very hardhearted, very calloused, lacking, in general, in feeling or pity for others? I don’t know the answer to that question. Perhaps it is selfishness. They just don’t care about anyone except themselves. Perhaps they view life as a battleground, a place of competition, conflict and battle where you can’t worry about anyone except yourself. The Mongols, Vikings and many other peoples showed remarkable capacity for cruelty and lack of compassion toward others when they swept into foreign lands, conquering them. They would slaughter everyone in any city that resisted them, man, woman and child. It is possible for people to become very hard toward others. Hardness toward others, lack of feeling for others, is perhaps like other character traits, a mental pattern, a habit of mind. Like other habits, it becomes established by repetition. Then once it becomes established, it becomes permanent, a character trait.

Apr 2017

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