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Discipline Leadership

Empathy and Immaturity

“Empathy” is a relatively new word. It came about in the early 20th century. It is nowhere found in the Bible.

While there may have been good intentions behind the word, today it has been weaponized by the immature. A family that values inclusiveness will always attempt to appease its most ornery members. Criticism is directed to those with strength, to those who stand up to those throwing a tantrum.

All in the name of empathy.

Those who are immature remain immature and everyone else adapts around them.

It is a power tool in the hands of the overly-sensitive. They hurl accusations, take a fall, and everyone scrambles to calm them down. Much like a toddler who cries to try and get attention from their mother.

Another example is the labeling of words or certain opinions as “violence” or abuse. This implies damage. Words may hurt, but they do not cause damage. There is a big difference.

It is another way for the listener to not take responsibility for their own feelings. They hear the words and they are helpless. It is always someone else’s fault. They have no capacity to self-regulate.

Their feelings are always more important than anything else going on. In fact, they expect you to treat their feelings about something as an idea, no matter how off-topic it may be. Or they hurl accusations and ad hominem attacks.

“Your cis-heteronormative views are bigoted.”

“That’s your white supremacy speaking.”

“You are ignoring her lived experience.”

Sometimes they literally throw a tantrum. Grown adults.

Even the simple fact of 2+2=4 is not immune to these sensitivities.

If you are to be a leader, including the leader of your own family, you must refuse to be tyrannized by someone else’s sensitivities. They can disagree with your opinion. They may not hurl accusations. They may not try and make the topic about their feelings. Feelings are not an opinion.

Empathy as Self-righteousness

One day in the airport, while waiting for my flight to board, a small boy began throwing a long, slow tantrum. The airport was crowded. Standing room only in the terminal.

This boy would whine and scream and collapse on the floor. Then he would whine and yell and bang on the vending machine. Then he would collapse on the floor. Then he would throw his toy away in anger and the dad would go and pick it up.

His hapless father followed him around with a resigned grimace on his face. He would pick him up off the floor and then watch him do it again. Over and over. They walked in a constant circle.

This lasted, no joke, for at least 25 minutes. The macabre routine still continued as I left the terminal to board the plane.

And this kid’s screams were the kind that entered your ear and bounced around a bit.

This fool of a father was practicing the modern version of empathy, encouraging his son to remain weak and immature. For what? What lies was he telling himself at that moment?

I don’t know.

But I do know this: both he and his son were miserable. And they were making everyone around them miserable. His passiveness or “niceness” might have been intended to keep the peace, but there was no peace.

Here is a true empathy: looking at your son when he is throwing the same fit at 28 years old. You see the pain and foolishness of their life…and so you spank them now to spare them that future pain later.

They will be sad for a minute, but the bitter taste of that medicine will fade quickly.

Sure, you won’t get to brag about “never lifting a hand” to your child. You won’t have that self-righteous fact to hang over their head to make them feel guilty.

But you were not tyrannized by their sensibilities, and as a result, your family will be better off in the long run.

For more information, I recommend A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.