Stray Dogs and Empathy

Shortly before I was married, during my final year of university studies, my betrothed and I lived with several other people in a house adjacent to the university we studied at.   The university town was a small one in the middle of the great plains of the Midwest and there was nothing but cornfield or forest in the area around the town.   One day, my ex nearly hit a dog while driving on one of the innumerable country roads in the area.  Feeling extreme empathy for this lost animal – he had determined that the dog was collared and, thus, presumably lost – he pulled over, put the dog in the car, and brought it back to our house in order to contact the owner.  I was less than pleased.

When he arrived home with the animal, I unleashed a verbally abusive torrent at him.  How dare he bring home an animal without the consent of others living in the house?  Was he unable to think?  Why risk the ire and damage the respect we had from those we lived with over the inconsequential dog that he picked up?

When it comes between choosing empathy or respect, I always choose respect.  The subtle difference can be explained best by the following.  I had great respect for those that I lived with.  Having great respect for them, I did not wish to intrude upon their autonomy within those walls.  Yes, my ex’s action was one of great compassion, but it was of potential great disrespect to those that we lived with.   The fact that I would have to violate my principle of not harming those that I respect enraged me more than any other action my ex could not have done.

People often do not make logical decisions when they act on empathic principle than respect-based principle.  Whether it was my husband disrupting the household with some unnamed animal or the  person that gives to shady charities, people often do not think things through when confronted with a situation that invokes empathy.  I will admit that there certainly must be some worth in empathy, a social species seems to require it, but at the same time, I am rather glad that I am immune to it.

Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.  Use of this image should not imply endorsement by the image author, Flickr user Andrey.


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