You’re most likely to empathize with people who are like you and those who have been kind to you. Empathy is vulnerable to bias; you must choose who you believe; choose who is important. Paul Bloom describes this as a “Spotlight effect” in his book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion – we focus on certain tragedies while unable to empathize with those who are affected by them every day. We shouldn’t be trying to be empathizing while making decisions, because we’ll always play favorites and we won’t know where to put the bright-line. Ask yourself if altruism is really the best tool to solve these problems. While It’s okay to feel outrage for someone; it’s okay to feel grief for someone but, those who devote themselves to compassion are not using their empathy. Doctors do not focus not on feeling bad for others. It’s useless to live suffering vicariously through others, that will only leave you sad, drained and ashamed. Instead focus on the problems that causes that suffering, even when we use empathic ideals and galvanize people in order to get things done.
With this “We have to do something” mentality we laser-focus on certain issues we empathize with, and as a society the issues that we chose to address are not to those who actually may need our help. Our existing biases aided and reinforced mostly by an empathetic largely white mainstream media, while never trying to solve the root causes. People still do nothing; being empathetic is not only useless but a unsustainable mindset to use a framework. Often, our gut feelings are not good policy. Sometimes military intervention is necessary but there is too much suffering in the world. We cannot alleviate all of the harm done, and most of the time we do more harm than good. The reason for military action shouldn’t be based on empathy, it should be based on effectiveness.