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Empathizing vs. Objectifying


Explanations > Preferences > Empathizing vs. Objectifying

Empathizing | Objectifying | So what?



People who have a lot of empathy for others and hence experience their emotions will tend to be caring and sympathetic. They see and experience other people as themselves and hence see the world either as a vast human net or connections or even a single overlapping humanity.

Empathy helps people connect with one another and hence allows us to live in our social and tribal ways. At the very least, it prevents our worst excesses against one another.

We do not empathize with all people equally; almost by definition, we connect more fully with those who are close to us.

People who prefer to empathize will approach others sympathetically and will often seek company with others. In connecting with them they encourage others to also empathize with them.

We can even empathize with situations, such as the marketplace or even a storm. Extending our emotions we create feelings that we experience as connected with that situation.

Companies and cultures can have empathetic or objectifying cultures. Empathetic cultures are very people-oriented. Those who tend to be more objective may be driven by professions such as engineering, where people are not normally a part of their attention. We thus may be very empathetic at home but very objectifying at work or when out with a group of friends.


At the other end of the spectrum, are people who do not empathize. In order to protect themselves from others they put them at a distance from them. This allows them to see the other people as things or objects that can be treated without having to consider their feelings (if I empathize with you and hurt you, I also hurt myself).

When we objectify others, we strip them of their humanity and their individuality, hence objectification is also called depersonification. (we are using the word 'objectifying' here to emphasize not only the turning of people into objects but also the viewpoint of the world as 'things').

Many of us use objectification at some time or another. Objectifying other people deliberately is a convenient method of avoiding the discomfort of empathy and helps us avoid feelings of guilt or shame when we do things that break our values.

When we see people who we dislike, by objectifying them, we can then be unkind to them without suffering the repercussions of an empathetic connection.

When we see people who are disadvantaged in comparison to us, we distance ourselves, both to protect ourselves from empathetic feelings and also to avoid the guilt of not helping them.

When we associate ourselves with others in a group, we treat others in the out-group as being 'all the same' so we can stereotype them.

It is often convenient to have a scapegoat, on whom we can blame our problems or even the ills of the world.

Misogynists, men who dislike women, objectify them, as do rapists. Prison warders can easily fall into objectifying prisoners. Slave owners objectified their charges. If you listen into many management or trade union meetings, you will hear much objectification of the other side.

So what?

Find out where the other person normally sits on this spectrum and the situations where they may change and appeal first to their preference.

See also

Empathy, Objectivity preferences, Deindividuation, Objectification

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