Is it possible that people are becoming less empathetic because they are feeling too busy [to care about others] on their paths to success?

A friend of mine posed this question to us:

“is it possible that people are becoming less empathetic because they are feeling too busy [to care about others] on their paths to success?”

Here is what i think:

People are either sufficiently empathetic or insufficiently empathetic and that characteristic of their personality will drive both their choices and how they experience them.

What we observe is people being busy. Through their behavior they reveal their preference: to care about their professional career. But we can’t observe their feelings or well-being. Some of them enjoy, at least temporarily, to build their lives around their expected success; others do not.

For simplicity, call the ones that enjoy devoting their time and energy into building their careers the ‘self-aware type’. We don’t know anything about their level of empathy because we only know they don’t ‘feel too busy’ even if they are. All we know these people are having a good time working towards a professional goal. Now, consider their counterparts: those who do not get comparable levels of satisfaction from building their professional profile. They are the ones that actually ‘feel too busy on their path to success’.

‘Feeling busy’ is not a positive valuation of one’s experience. By expressing ‘feeling too busy’ these people are implicitly saying: ‘I want more time off’. Some of these people want more time off to take care of themselves, in which case they are just a ‘time-constrained version’ of the ‘insufficiently empathetic type’ of people.

That leaves us with yet another fraction of the population to characterize: those who want more time off to take care of others; the sufficiently emphatic to ‘feel too busy’ and want more time to care about others. These people I call the ‘post-modern slaves’, people who cannot afford not to care about their professional careers because-as we say in our home country-the tiger will eat them. I doubt these people can become ‘insufficiently empathetic’ for being busy. On the contrary, I think that an overwhelming feeling of restriction will amplify their empathetic ability: they will rapidly understand other people’s pain and frustration as they themselves are notoriously aware of their own misery.

Finally, I believe that whether an ‘insufficiently empathetic’ type can become ‘sufficiently emphatic’ entirely depends on extrinsic factors, such as a strong emotional experience, religious influence, and other life-changing events. Notice a major caveat in the analysis: the level of ‘sufficiency’ is entirely unidentified.


Empty envelopes

I recently found these two pieces I wrote a couple of years ago. The first from when I discussed the news about failing my first macro economics preliminary exam with my academic advisor, the director of the graduate program at NCSU and a wonderful person. The second one is from when I got the letter with the results from retaking that disgraceful prelim exam. If I passed I could remain in the PhD program, if I didn’t I was out. Almost by randomness I passed and i got to stay to continue working my ass off supposedly fir a purpose I once thpught clearly existed.

I’ve never sustained so much stress over anything or for such a long period of time. And I have been in stressful situations. I find it precious and don’t want to forget the conclusions from that dark period of my life. Hence, I make them public.

Today, I tecovered my love for life snd my hope for the future. Moreover, EVERYDAY I choose see a very important and exiting purpose in EVERYTHING that I do. Maybe it’s a way of coping, maybe it’s made up. So what? I’m all for pragmatism when it comes to choosing an attitude towards life that feels less miserable and less toxic than cynism. Rational optimism actually invites in more of what is positive into my life and enhances whatever is already fulfilling in my personal story.

The first:

“It was something like: ‘Dont let the outcome dictate who you are. Its not a definition of yourself.’ I cant say with certainty what words she used. But whatever she said, it sounded a lot like compasion.

Suddenly, there was no anger just gratitude. She melted my shields and vanished my walls. I felt inlove for an instant. It was so… healing.

‘…now, are you ok?’ She continued.
I smiled outised. And cried. Really, really hard inside. My soul was naked. Did she see my pain thru my invisible tears? Did she hear my spirit shouting? Did she know I was finally, happily, letting myself die a little bit? Did she recognize a hint of me?

I cant say. She was calm and secure throughtout the entire exorcism. She had a sweet smile.
I really loved her then. Did she notice?

She took away my sorrow. Did she know?
I cant but love her. Does she know?
I cant answer that.
I just hope she knows I really meant it when I said: ‘thank you’ ”

The second:

“What if I just don’t open the envelope?

The gravity of the matter is that it seems as if the dismal institution governing us tricks us into caring about the content of empty envelopes because the institution itself is full of emptiness. Hence, we are consumed by unimportant and mostly imaginary social conventions.

I wonder if I can change the WORLD simply by not opening the empty envelope full of empty words of empty lies we tell ourselves about empty dreams of empty smiles.

It is all a pointless and grotesque spectacle of sadism. I refuse to accept emptiness as my law. Whatever the envelope holds, it is disconnected from real virtue. I thus label it irrelevant and misleading. A sorry example of yet another social institution we foolishly surrender our lives to.

There is no value to this hypocritical practice of sending empty envelopes to one another as if it masked the sad fact that we don’t care about each other’s well-being. It does not mean anything.

I know today that I dont want to ever aspire to a life full of empty envelopes. I want meaning: a meaningful life, not the empty words, the empty smiles or the numb hearts that come out of this factory of nothingness.

Until the envelope does not become the forgotten illusion it really is, i will not open it. I hate what it represents.

I will change my world by not opening the envelope. I will make every breath a statement of fullness.”

Taking Away Their Food, for Thought

Early this January, local governments restored a federal work requirement for food some stamp recipients in 23 mostly urban counties across North Carolina, including Wake County.

State senators that support the change say the work requirement will incentivize the unemployed beneficiaries to find work or to enroll in some sort of higher education or training program to improve their job skills. While this may be true, they forget one thing: You can’t always get what you want.

Many of NC’s poorest will lose their food aid because they couldn’t find jobs or training programs or simply because they didn’t know the change took effect. The change could affect over 100,000 North Carolinians living around the poverty line [1]. Add to their perils the newly increased requirements for unemployment benefits for which the legislature voted in September. If state leaders do not act, other 77 counties may push more of the state’s poorest people into hardship by restoring the work requirement later this year.

Food stamps are a form of food subsidy to provide poor people with adequate quantity of food. In the US, food stamps are provided under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) of the US Department of Agriculture.  The program is state-supervised and county-administered.

Each month, SNAP food stamp dollars are directly deposited into a beneficiary household’s special debit card account, the Electronic Benefit Transfer card account. Households can use their EBT to pay for most food items found at supermarkets, convenience stores, and even some farmers’ markets.

SNAP supplies roughly 46.5 million Americans with food assistance that roughly equates to an average of $125.35 per person per month.

The amount of SNAP benefits received by household depends on many factors. There are income requirements for SNAP, as well as specific requirements different household sizes, immigrants, elderly persons and persons with disabilities. In North Carolina, eligibility for this benefit program is determined by residency status and household income.

The work requirement, which had been suspended since 2008 when the recession hit and unemployment rose, demands childless, abled adult program beneficiaries to document either work, education, or volunteer activities for at least 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps.

County social services are working to make sure recipients learn about the requirements and find opportunities to meet them. However, even if unemployed recipients of food aid look for work and volunteer opportunities, or put the effort into looking for training programs, it doesn’t mean they will find them or that they will be hired or accepted.

For example, non-profits rarely give 20-hour-a-week slots, and workforce training programs fill quickly. In addition, distances in NC may be a limiting factor for those contemplating to drive to a community college [1].

Census data on how many food stamp recipients already have jobs is murky and difficult to interpret. According to 2012 data, around 75 percent of SNAP households had a t least one wage earner. But that gives little information to infer anything about individuals [2]. According to a Policy Analyst from the Budget and Tax Center, the average childless, non-disabled adult who receives food stamps in NC has an annual income of $2,200 and received an average of $150 to $200 in food assistance per month [3]. Clearly, this group is vulnerable. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, very few recipients of food stamps in NC quality for other forms of assistance and live without much of a safety net [4]. Therefore, for them, the loss of food assistance could become the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The change in requirements can be detrimental for an already vulnerable social group. To the recipients’ relieve, at least they will still be eligible for at least three months of benefits without meeting the work requirement. That gives social activist groups until March to prepare for unusual emergency food demands. For us, the conscious students, it means we have enough time and budget to set aside an additional 30 packs of ramen noodles to send the local food bank.





[4] Ed Bolen. “Approximately 1 Million Unemployed Childless Adults Will Lose SNAP Benefits in 2016 as State Waivers Expire.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. January 2015. Data reflect the national profile. Available here: