When describing the attitudes of effective altruists in his book, The Most Good You Can Do, author Peter Singer examines empathy, and how empathy affects people within a community. Singer focuses on what empathy means and how it has become something worth focusing on in our lives today. In his book, the author uses a quote from President Obama as an example of how many people think about empathy today,
“Shortly after he was elected president of the united states, Obama recieved a letter from a young girl suggesting a ban on unneccessary wars. In response he told the girl, “If you don’t already know what it means, I want you to look up the word empathy in the dictionary. I beleive we don’t have enough empathy in our wold today, and it is up to your generation to change that.”
Singer sets up Obama’s quote by defining empathy as the ability to put oneself in the position of others and identify with their feelings or emotions. He also looks at work by Jeremy Rifkin who sees empathy as a force that is spreading broadly within our community and evolving with our society. In Rifkin’s view, empathy is no longer something we restrict to our close group or to those who look and act like us. Empathy is growing and we are beginning to see the importance of sharing empathy with all of those across the planet. That means that as a culture that is increasingly globalized, we are able to see the points of view and understand the feelings of more and more people.
It is this spread of empathy that Singer believes is at the heart of the effective altruist movement. He breaks empathy down and looks at four types of empathy in the sections following Obama’s quote. While Singer agrees that empathy is spreading and building the effective altruist movement, I believe he would also feel as though it is not as widespread through our country as it should be. Practicing empathy can be very easy for some people, but a major challenge for others. Everyone within a community will have to look at empathy and build toward a point where they allow empathy to overcome their prejudices if we want to be the generation that President Obama is counting on to change the way we interact with one another.