Thursday, October 26, 2006
I've been reading "Atonement in Literature and Life" by Alan Dinsmore which is a fascinating book written in 1906 that looks at how great literature has reflected the human struggles of conflict, revenge, guilt and reconciliation, looking at authors like Homer, Shakespeare and Milton.
One of the things Dinsmore says is that conscience is not awakened either by fear of punishment nor by the show of great love. It is awakened by empathy, compassion, by a person seeing the consequences of their sin. I thought this was rather profound, and it bears out with what psychologists say about the criminal mind - that it has no sense of empathy, of the harm that they are doing to others.
Daniel Goleman, the author of the book "Emotional Intelligence" in a recent radio interview said that he thought that this is what we should be focusing on with youth offenders whose personality (including the moral awareness of empathy) is still developing until they are around 20. He advocated "reform schools" that would teach them to develop empathy. Similarly, one aspect of Restorative Justice programs is to have criminals meet their victims so that they can learn who the person is that they have hurt and likewise make the connection of empathy.
Goleman defines emotional intelligence in terms of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy and the ability to love and be loved, and believes it can be taught. This makes sense since these are the kinds of things that are instilled in a healthy child by their parents. So in this sense it is in fact (parental) love that instills in a person in their formative years the sense of self that creates empathetic loving adults. So if that is true it would seem that Dinsmore got it half right: conscience is awakened in a person by helping them develop a sense of the consequences of their sins, by empathy, and empathy in instilled in a person by them being loved so they can move from being self-oriented towards bring a relational being.