Immigrant protest at trump tower Spencer Platt/Getty Images

La trampa de la empatía

PRINCETON – Poco después de resultar electo presidente de los Estados Unidos, Barack Obama le dijo a una niña: “A este mundo le falta empatía, y cambiar eso depende de tu generación”. La idea que expresaba Obama está muy difundida, así que el título de un nuevo libro de Paul Bloom (psicólogo de la Universidad de Yale) puede generar sorpresa: Against Empathy [Contra la empatía]. ¿Cómo puede alguien estar en contra de algo que nos permite ponernos en los zapatos de los demás y sentir lo que sienten?

Para responder esa pregunta, podríamos hacer otra: ¿por quién debemos sentir empatía? Ahora que Donald Trump se prepara para suceder a Obama, algunos analistas señalan que Hillary Clinton perdió la elección del mes pasado porque le faltó empatía con los estadounidenses blancos, en particular los votantes del viejo cinturón industrial que añoran los días en que Estados Unidos era una potencia fabril. El problema es que la empatía hacia los trabajadores estadounidenses está en tensión con la empatía hacia los trabajadores mexicanos y chinos, a quienes quedarse sin empleo perjudicaría incluso más que a los primeros.

Tener empatía con alguien nos predispone mejor hacia esa persona. Es algo bueno, pero también tiene su lado oscuro. En sus discursos de campaña, Trump usó el trágico asesinato de una joven llamada Kate Steinle a manos de un inmigrante indocumentado para generar apoyo a sus políticas antiinmigrantes. Por supuesto, nunca ofreció una descripción tan vívida de los casos (publicados) de inmigrantes indocumentados que salvaron las vidas de personas que no conocían.

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