IN HER EXPLORATION OF how we live out the concept of empathy, writer Leslie Jamison makes the point that empathy is both a feeling and a choice: “Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse.”1 Contemporary scientific research echoes Jamison’s observations, with neuroscience and laboratory studies validating the fact that empathy is both a largely automatic feeling and an effort that is under the control of our choices.2 This research shows that while empathy can happen instantly, it doesn’t always. People can take on other ...

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