Thursday, May 05, 2011

Social Empathy and Social Pain

I work daily online and talk to many people from different places in the world. Facebook is a very active place to go and interact with others. I do a lot of reading and observing as well. As the internet brings the world together, it’s not uncommon to talk to someone in the U.K or in the Ukraine all in the same day. The cultural differences are evident in these posts that I read. However, one constant remains the same and that is social exclusion and lack of social empathy. I am not targeting one particular group, culture or individual here, but am speaking as a whole. Adult Survivors of Peer Abuse grew up in a world where empathy was lacking in their social pain. If we cried, we were told to grow up and stop acting like a baby. However, if it was a case of rape or child abuse, oh boy did people run and empathize to the hilt. Even if it was a physical case, people were so sad. These situations warranted prayer and concern. Yet, when it came to social pain and abuse, it was as if people just turned a blind eye and shrugged it off. I think this is one reason why we are so sensitive socially and pick up on every headshake, word and glare thrown our way. Also, why we are so reactive and are triggered in social situations. It is as if we expect others to lash out at us if we say what is on our minds or complain about how others are making us feel. Peer Abuse is without a doubt something that must be experienced before it can be understood.

A study was conducted by the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and shared on the Livescience website. In this study, adults were playing a game of ball-toss. This was done online where the ball was thrown by one person to two other players. Some participants received the ball a fair 1/3 of the time. This was considered the inclusion condition. Others were tossed the ball 10 percent of the time which was considered exclusion condition. Another group which was the control group did not participate in the game at all. Ratings were based on an 11-point scale, each point represented by a facial expression showing an increasing magnitude of pain. Those excluded students indicated a significantly higher pain experience linked to the two social-exclusion scenarios compared with the inclusion group (4.6 versus 3.7). For the other scenarios, the pain ratings didn’t differ between the groups. Three other experiments using the cyberball game, with various tweaks, showed similar results. In one, the players had to indicate how a victim of bullying (named Anna) felt after “Roger” teased her, shouting “earthquake” when she passed by due to her being overweight. The exclusion students rated her pain an average of 5.5 versus 4.3 rating from the inclusion group. At the end of the day, it showed that social pain as much as if not more than any other pain someone would experience.

Folks, it’s time to get real here. Social pain is very real and as you see, it matters to others just as much as any other type of pain would. I am seeing so much lack of social empathy online. People in forums just ignoring others. Then, some will exclude others in offline activities and continuously rub this into those who are not included in these activities. Facebook and Twitter are hotbeds for this. If the person was to speak up, they would get flamed, told to get lost or to stop being so sensitive. Newsflash: these things DO hurt! As an adult survivor myself, I have found myself in many of these situations. As a survivor, what have I done? Sat at the computer and cried. If I spoke out, I got told how silly I was being and childish. I will always have this with me because I am a survivor. However, I have learned to handle it. Plus, I am not alone here. Why do we do this? What makes it okay to verbally ignore others? What is missing with us? Manners have flown out the window and it’s bad to have them these days. Our society has taught us that this lack of empathy is acceptable! People, words hurt! Not only that, but they kill. I can answer all of these questions and that is lacking social empathy or pain for others is not acceptable and this is the culture we have created. We keep quiet about our pain and by doing so we allow this to fester and continue.

The next time you are online, please try and interact with as many people as you can. A recognition or a smile can make a person’s day. Kindness can go a long way. It’s not hard to do. As humans, don’t we all deserve to be included? Something for us all to think about.


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