Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A little more on that empathy stuff

I wanted to write a post dedicated to the question of empathy as a judicial qualification, but then I found this piece by the inimitable Dalia Lithwick, who always says it better than I do. Please read it.

Empathy isn't a bad word or a scary concept. It's most definitely not something that has no place in a court of law. It's just a recognition that there are other perspectives and experiences beyond your own. It's a recognition that the case you, the judge, are deciding is very personal to very many people. A judge who can't, or won't, take into consideration other perspectives before making the most measured, reasoned decision she can just isn't doing her job.


BellsforStacy said...

Yes but don't you think empathy can get in the way as well?

I feel empathy for people who commit crimes, especially young people. I wonder how they got there, what adults failed them, why no one noticed (like the student who shot and missed his teacher and then killed himself in the boys bathroom this week), and what could have been done.

For those reasons, it would be hard for me to see the crime objectively.

And who really needs empathy ... who really needs to be judged not on how many convictions they get but by some other measure I can not think of ... is prosecutors.

They are the start of this entire process and I think if they had more empathy and weren't so "I'm a hammer so everything is a nail" many of our problems would ease.

S said...

No, I think sympathy for a particular party can get in the way, but just being able to understand the situation from both the defendant's and victim's perspectives can't get in the way. In fact, I would argue the contrary: that not being able to consider the dispute from multiple angles would get in the way of reaching the best resolution.

I'm not arguing that a judge should only have empathy for one party to a dispute, but for all parties.

I wholeheartedly agree that it would be great to find more prosecutors who could take a more rational, empathetic approach to charging in the first place.

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