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Avatar: A lesson in empathy

Posted Jan 02 2010 12:52pm

My wife and I spent time on New Year’s Day to attend the new movie “Avatar” which is an incredible creative production.  I was particularly impressed with James Camerson’s portrayal of the destructive forces of lack of empathy (by some humans) on the mythical moon Pandora.  Empathy, of course, is one of the eight tools of anger control that we teach in all our anger management classes and programs, as it is a key concept for anger control.  Empathy is the ability to see and feel things from the viewpoint of the other which then changes how you respond to them or deal with them.  In Avatar, some of us humans are portrayed as aggressors/bullies/militants who want something very valuable on Pandora with no regard for the indigenous  peoples or how our greed will affect their lives. As we have written in numerous other blogs, this complete lack of empathy is at the root of much human misery, conflict, and wars. The underlying thinking of the non-empathetic person is: “you have something I want, so I’ll just take it and I don’t care how you feel about it.” The aggressors in Avatar didn’t even see the local people as humans (well, they weren’t exactly humans, but they had human feelings and human relationships), but as
“blue monkeys.” (Seeing them that way makes it easier to abuse/ravage them!).

Wouldn’t it be a much better world if more people did care more? Having more empathy often improves relationships on all levels, starting with marriages, families, neighbors, and communities. Now, I must add that it is also possible to have too much empathy and be taken advantage of. But, most of us don’t have that problem and, in fact, could benefit ourselves, our relationships and the world  by increasing our empathy skills.

This is a great time of the year to start practicing empathy. Try it and see if it doesn’t change how you feel about yourself and also see if it doesn’t change how people are with you. Happy New Year to you all.

Dr Tony

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