On Empathy

In the process of cleaning off my desk tonight, I came across something I’d written several years ago. Written beneath it was a quote from Donald Norman’s Emotional Design (or possibly The Design of Everyday Things; I’d wrongly attributed it to a book called Everyday Design, which does not appear to exist).

I’m an intensely private person, and I debated sharing this quote, especially since the scrap of writing attached to it is pretty revealing…and the reasons I wrote it down in the past remain true today. Possibly moreso, in fact, as I stand on the cusp of a life change. But then I realized that half the point of the quote is that anyone reading this blog will attach their own meaning to it. Or more specifically, they’ll make probably incorrect assumptions about the meaning I attach to it. I’m okay with that. That’s just Reader Response Theory. And anyway, the quote is too good not to share.

And with that interpretation also comes emotional judgement and empathy. We interpret, we emote. We can thereby believe that the object of our interpretations is sad or happy, angry or calm, sneaky or embarrassed. And, in turn, we ourselves can become emotional just by our interpretation of others. We cannot control those initial interpretations, for they come automatically, built in at the visceral level. We can control the final emotions through reflective analysis, but those initial impressions are subconscious and automatic. But, more important, it is this behavior that greases the wheels of social interaction, that makes it possible. (pp. 137-138)

Also, this.