Evolution of empathy over a medical career

I recently watched Bridget Duffy’s talk at the GEL conference, where she presents her work as “Chief Empathy Officer”. She mentions at one point the evolution of doctor’s empathy over a career, and I find it pretty fascinating to see this key skill evolve with time. Doctors start by being idealistic, then lose empathy after their study, probably confronted with the reality of a job that can be tough, and where it is easy to treat people as numbers when you face the constraints of a modern health system. Then life kicks in and teaches a few lessons, bringing empathy back to the picture. Pretty much summarizes the evolution we all go through isn’t it?

The evolution of empathy over a medical career, and Bridget Duffy at GEL 2008.

Cyberbullying, coming to a social network near you

I wrote in 2007 that cyberbullying would reach us in 2-3 years (other articles on the topic here and here). Well, it is now spreading through Facebook, and as Dave Pell writes on the Huffington Post, “while it used to require a certain set of characteristics to thrive as a bully, the internet makes it simple for almost anyone to graduate from cowering weakling to kicking virtual sand in the face of friends and strangers in no time”. But the playing field can be leveled with a bit of creativity.

The connection between bully and target is so seamless that hate speech can often spread more rapidly than its originator ever intended. One assumes that’s the case with UCLA student Alexandra Wallace, who recorded a three-minute rant against Asian students, in particular those who use cell phones in her school library. In the video, which she posted on YouTube, Wallace shared her version of the Asian language (including several ching chongs and ling longs), urged Asians who come to UCLA to first adopt “American manners,” and for good measure even managed to work in a reference to the tsunami in Japan.

The video went viral. Its contents and the reaction it generated made it all the way to the pages of the New York Times. In a previous era, it would have taken Alexandra Wallace several lifetimes to even encounter as many Asian students as she managed to offend in three minutes. […]

Modern victims of bullying have a much broader arsenal of tools with which to defend themselves. I’m reminded of those old match box covers that featured a Charles Atlas advertisement with the line: “Tired of having sand kicked in your face?”

Back then, the ad was for a muscle building program. [Today’s] version of that ad could read: “Tired of having sand kicked in your face? Get a video phone and learn to develop snappy retorts that are shorter than 140 characters.”

None of this is intended to suggest a future free of bullying or a panacea that helps all the little guys win in the end. But in some ways, the playing field has been leveled. It’s not just about being physically tougher or being the type of person who thrives on conflict. Sometimes it’s about being smarter, funnier or more creative.


Another one of these moments where the media will be tempted to say “technologies are evil”. Truth is, technologies just mirror the real world, and sometimes with a certain delay (who would expect that). At least we had 22 years of WWW without that becoming too much of an issue. I’m in a glass half full mood as you can see ๐Ÿ˜‰