Friday, January 16, 2009

UN Mine Action Advertisement

This ad from the UN Mine Action agency reminds me of Adam Smith's The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

Adam Smith argues that empathy is a basic human quality. Every person feels within himself the joy and pain exhibited by his neighbor, through a two-step process. First, a person observes her neighbor's actions, and then she makes a comparison to her own personal experience. This directly results in an experience of pain or pleasure, as it is imagined to be felt by the neighbor.

But, there's a catch. The imagination-driven pain or pleasure is felt less strongly.

An observer's experience is never as sharp as the original feeling. Additionally, it's hard to empathize if we have no personal experience to use as a basis. This is definitely a good thing, or else we would all have PTSD.

But hooray for ads like this, framing a minefield injury in a more familiar suburban high school soccer game context. We need to empathize here in order to make responsible foreign policy decisions as a society. Our imaginations need the help.