In professions routinely confronted with suffering, it is common belief that we have a choice between emotional shutdown and emotional breakdown. But neither is a viable strategy. Neuroscience sheds light on a tried and tested alternative that can be practiced by anyone and transforms how we respond.
Empathy can plunge us into emotional distress. So much so that we get fatigued by it or, according to moral philosopher and founder of the Effective Altruism movement Peter Singer, get so trapped in it that our own relief becomes the focus of our ‘altruistic’ efforts. Some would go as far as arguing that empathy is of zero use to us when it comes to engaging in social change.