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Karl Rove Needs a Dictionary: Get Your Definition of Empathy Correct

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Karl Rove is changing the definition of 'empathy' in order to lead the charge against Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. But since the extreme Right is developing a penchant for objective truth at this time, it's important for them to get the objective definition of 'empathy' correct.

In his Wall Street Journal opinion piece, "'Empathy' is Code for Judicial Activism," Rove states, "There is a certain irony in a president who routinely praises America's commitment to 'the rule of law' but who picks Supreme Court nominees for their readiness to discard the rule of law whenever emotion moves them."

Rove is implying that an empathic person is one who lets their subjective feelings rule and that he/she uses this seeping mass of emotion to push an agenda. This, however, has nothing to do with empathy.

Empathy is an objective understanding of the subjective experience of another. In the process of empathizing, you're actually putting your ego aside in order to see what it is like to walk in another person's (or group's) shoes. This is why narcissists can't empathize--their own ego gets in the way of accurately understanding people and the world around them.

Empathy requires drawing on thoughts and feelings common to all humanity such as confusion, emptiness, joy, and hope. Even if it is not possible to relate to a specific event, it is possible to relate to some of the ideas, themes and emotions behind it. Empathizing in this way requires an objectivity and perceptiveness that is quite compatible with the rule of law.

Since empathy requires drawing on human experience to develop this kind of objective perceptiveness, it's important to have a wide range of human experience. A homogeneous Supreme Court that is only able to make meaning out of one small subgroup's views can never be as effective as a diverse Supreme Court that is able to more accurately perceive though the process of empathy.