The Emotional Roots of Ethics

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Empathy and compassion are ethics

An ethical act, the Dalai Lama says, is a non-harming act.

How might you determine whether an act is truly non-harming?

Here empathy is the means.

Empathy allows us to imagine the potential impact of our actions on others, to discriminate between right and wrong, between what is appropriate and what is not, between harming and non-harming.

It follows, therefore, that if we could enhance this capacity - that is to say, our sensitivity toward others' suffering - the more we did so, the less we could tolerate seeing others' pain and the more we would be concerned to ensure that no action of ours caused harm to others.

Do you think it is possible to enhance one's capacity for empathy and compassion?

Yes, the Dalai Lama says, we can use reflection and familiarization, practice and rehearsal,  to develop compassion. This is critical to our study of ethics. Not only can we enhance our capacity, but we can transform empathy into love and compassion itself. Empathy — the ability to appreciate another's suffering — is an essential means of developing compassion,

The more we develop compassion, the more genuinely ethical our conduct will be.

When dealing with others on any level, if you're having some difficulties, it's extremely helpful to be able to try to put yourself in the other person's place and see how you would react to the situation. Even if you have no common experience with the other person or have a very different lifestyle, you can try to do this through imagination. You may need to be slightly creative. This technique involves the capacity to temporarily suspend , insisting on your own viewpoint but rather to look from the other person's perspective, to imagine what would be the situation if you were in his shoes, how you would deal with this. This helps you develop an awareness and respect for another's feelings, which is an important factor in reducing conflicts and problems with other people.