Between understanding and judgement

What is the boundary where understanding ends and judgement begins? Empathy and naive realism help us tease out this difference.

The term “empathy” is more commonplace. We hear it quite often and are familiar with it. Empathy is the ability to understand and accept another person for who they are. In a disagreement, an empathetic person tries to see things from the other’s person’s point of view.

The term “naive realism” is more uncommon. Psychologists define it as a human tendency to believe that we see the world objectively, and that people who disagree with us must be uniformed, irrational or biased. When a naive realist finds out that another person’s point of view aligns with their own, they consider them wise. When that isn’t the case, they assume that something must be wrong with that person.

To be empathetic is to listen to a person in distress and try to feel what they feel. The naive realist jumps to offer solutions as soon as they hear a problem.

The empathetic posture seeks to understand the world for what it is. The naive realist attempts to fit the world into their world-view.

Empathy and naive realism seem poles apart, but they are often divided by a thin line – one that see somebody else’s struggle and recognize them as being as real as our own rather than assuming that somebody else’s struggle is the same as our own.

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