The Omni-absence of empathy. Human evilution?           

If bullying can spread so smoothly in our schools and workplaces, and if after an accident the crowd gathers not to help but “to see” isn’t it because of omni-absence of empathy and compassion in our society?

What makes us human? Lateralisation of brain function and a large cortex? In a very interesting neurobiology article “Limbic system: The Center of emotions” by Júlio Rocha de Amaral, MD & Jorge Martins de Oliveira, MD, PhD we read: “Humans display the largest web of connections between the prefrontal area and the traditional limbic structures. Perhaps that is why they present, among all species, the greatest variety of feelings and emotions”.

If in addition, executive function of our brain’s frontal lobe allows us to choose between good or bad action, then why are people deliberately cruel to each other?

A survivor of the Red Khmer regime told me “I pray for my grandson. Children are born to more and more evil world”. Many veterans of 2nd World War have equally negative perception of human “evilution”. It’s alarming to hear that “people are even worse today” from someone who witnessed the most despicable acts of human cruelty…

During the war, human relationships could seem somehow simplified: hostility for the enemy, solidarity for “our side”, but let’s not forget that acts of human kindness were often punishable by death. Even if we explain high empathy levels by the fact that people shared a gruesome reality and could easily recognize feelings in others, it’s undeniable that in many cases, our basic survival instinct was overshadowed by compassion. In times of “peace”, it should be easier to nurture and to demonstrate our capacity for compassion, and yet too often nobody protests when a “target” is being bullied…Are we getting emotionally lazy when our life is more quiet? Do people need an aggressive stimulus to be more compassionate?

In “How the stress of disaster brings people together”, Dr.Emma Seppala (Associate Director, Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education) suggests: “One reason why stress may lead to cooperative behavior is our profound need for social connection. Human beings are fundamentally social animals and it is the protective nature of our social relationships that has allowed our species to thrive”. Natural disasters and catastrophes trigger a global empathic response (both affective and cognitive) but the crowd in subway gives cold shoulder to an emaciated homeless man…Why? Do we choose when to show our compassion? According to a very talented researcher Daryl Cameron (University of North Carolina) :” Experiments find that compassion doesn't simply level off with more victims – so it's not that adding seven victims to the single victim increases compassion only a little bit. Instead, adding seven victims makes you feel less compassion compared to just one. Compassion plummets as the numbers increase”.

 Logically, there should be more people ready to show their solidarity to a bullied colleague at work (a person we know and sympathize with), than people volunteering to help after major disasters (people we don’t know, a faceless crowd).When a person shows compassion to victims of a catastrophe, he/she will be perceived as a generous and kind-hearted benefactor…What kind of “social status” will be given to you if you stand by a bullied co-worker or endanger your own safety by helping a mugging victim? Will you be bullied “by association” and labelled a “loser” or a “sucker”? Will your bravery be taken for stupidity? Will your actions be ridiculed?

Our society respects a predator, not a prey. In modern advertisements cars are depicted as big cats rather than antelopes. Even a stocky, ox like gnu can’t devour a lion and no matter how graceful, an oribi will end up as a cheetah’s snack…Majority of people will deny making fun of a victim of harassment, and yet they are clearly mocking the victims of discrimination by using vocabulary like: sucker, pushover, dupe, patsy ,pigeon. Are they oblivious to the fact that all of these nouns are synonyms of  ”victim” , or do they deliberately show their disesteem for the “losers” hoping it’ll place them in the “winners” category? In French “gentil” (kind, nice, sweet) means also that the person can be pushed around, and “brave” (courageous) is now a backhanded compliment, suggesting that a person is dumb. Harassment is ruling our world and the world of our children…Our educational system is failing…Perhaps, it happens because we had created an unnatural and inhuman philosophy? We promote anti-values, punish for humility and reward for selfishness. Children are born to a confused and mean world where they’ll fall into a category of losers if they don’t demonstrate predatory skills early enough. The winner-loser classification is based upon a false theory, and yet we just go on, not taking any action to radically change our uncompassionate etiquette. Some will say” the survival of the fittest is the law of nature”. Who is truly the fittest, who is “the winner” in our community? People born in countries with highly developed economy ? Children of wealthy parents? The rich and famous? Money can buy a better medical treatment but guarantees neither freedom from disease, nor immortality…Even the most “powerful” tyrant might force people only to obey, but not to love or respect him/her…

Many people do not show compassion or even affection to their loved ones for fear of being perceived as “weak”. Wandering why they do not have meaningful relationships in their lives, they sometimes discover that nobody knows them for what they truly are, because they let others to catch only a glimpse of their armor. In “The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty” Cambridge psychology professor Simon Baron Cohen defines “evil” as a total lack of empathy and I do believe our society has to choose between an evolution and an evilution. I think we can cultivate greater emphatic response in our society only if we decide to improve our moral sensitivity and to enrich our education system with programs developing compassion. A utopian society? Well, I believe we can accept things as they are, only if our moral values allow us to consider deliberate cruelty as a standard behaviour…What do we have to lose if we opt for more empathy? Bullying, discrimination, contempt based on labels we mindlessly distribute. And what will we gain? A more human humanity?

Professor Dacher Keltner (Department of Psychology,UC Berkeley) writes in “Compassionate Instinct”:“In some recent studies I’ve conducted, we have found that when people perform behaviors associated with compassionate love—warm smiles, friendly hand gestures, affirmative forward leans—their bodies produce more oxytocin. This suggests compassion may be self-perpetuating: Being compassionate causes a chemical reaction in the body that motivates us to be even more compassionate.” The polipeptyde hormone called oxytocin is also a powerful stress buster, because it is known to reduce our cortisol levels and blood pressure…David R. Hamilton Ph.D, in “Compassion, the elixir of life” describes a new research which suggests that compassion could have the anti-inflammatory properties and might even be able to slow the aging process. Dr.Hamilton: “Maybe compassion is the elixir of life. Perhaps the reason we've never found the mythical philosopher's stone — a legendary substance believed to rejuvenate the body and prolong life — is because we've always searched for something outside of ourselves. Compassion is an inside job”.

I believe that compassion is the elixir of life in more ways than one. If commonly used, consideration for other people’s feelings would serve as an outstanding suicide prevention method. Ages ago Phaedrus (Roman fabulist, 15-50 B.C.) stated: “Gentleness is the antidote for cruelty.” These were veterans who taught me the most important lesson in humility…I’ve seen people mauled by war who, still within early stages of their own recovery, motivated and inspired others. If we can help others to regain their will to live, isn’t the empathy potion worth brewing?

 Being shamelessly emphatic and fearlessly compassionate could benefit both individuals and society, don’t you think? Who would choose bullying over kindness? What will we opt for? Human evolution or human evilution?

                           To read more about empathy and compassion:




People who are bullied are naturally wondering « why » and « am I an easy target? ». If you think that it’s because you are a wimp or somehow “worse” than others – you are wrong. While bullies are opportunists ready to explore every feature they view as a weak point, they will target anybody and they are often driven by envy.



 – Because they can.

There’s still not enough said and done about bullying. Victims of harassment are being   persecuted because of their gender, race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, and for this reason harassment is viewed as equality and human right issue, rather than a “relationship problem”. Bullying is often perceived as a relationship issue and victims of bullying are often not recognized soon enough or helped in an efficient way. If humiliation, intimidation and sabotaging performance of others go undetected and unpunished, a bully will feel encouraged to continue and his/her behaviour can even escalate.


– Because of fear of exposure.

 Despite appearances and their carefully constructed image, some bullies are insecure and have low self-esteem. Research shows that some bullies have an average or high self esteem (self- inflated…), but all of them have some common characteristics. As long as a bully manages to manipulate and to intimidate others his/her self-esteem remains high. At work a bully is often not the brightest crayon in the box, neither the most creative, nor the wittiest one. Since bullies bulldoze their way to success (or rather to what they view as a success) they can land a managerial position, even if they are inadequate or totally inept. Needless to say, their behaviour will escalate if they are given a “higher” position. Unable to assume the responsibility and fulfil obligation a bully becomes paranoid, can’t overcome fear of rejection, exposure or being replaced by a more competent worker.


– Because they are envious.

Even if being bullied is hardly flattering, it’s a well known fact that you can become a target if bully finds that you are a smarter, more popular or more respected person. If what’s more you dare to be competent and innovative at work bully will be seething with jealousy.


– Because a bully gets agitated by personal values just like a bull gets agitated by a red blanket…

If a bully is in the mood for boasting, he/she will give an “I did it my way” monologue mocking all these “losers and suckers”…What about the “glorious” bully’s way”? Well, let’s start by the fact that a bully often learns to avoid punishment for his/her outrageous behaviour already early in his/her childhood, by using “methodology” which consists on denial, blatant lies or self-victimization. A bully will go through life intimidating, harassing and humiliating his/her victims. For a bully this is “the only way” so they can’t stand altruistic, honest, decent people.Originality, independence, morality and integrity will destabilize bully and he/she will see red.


– Because they use bullying as a “coping technique” to deal with their toxic emotions.

  Bullies are angry, resentful, and frustrated so tormenting someone else is their “anger   management therapy”. Bullies are unwilling to change their behaviour or to develop real coping skills.


Bullies can be very direct in their actions (physically abusing, threatening, insulting) or more “discreet” (plotting, denigrating, and formulating false accusations).While a raging bully is easily spotted, it can be very difficult to prove guilt of the “undercover” aggressor. Many people will picture a bully as a big guy who is shouting and showing his fists, or a mean boss barking orders at people in the office. It’s harder to imagine that a charming professor, a helpful colleague, a classy elderly lady or a cute little kid can be a bully. The truth is that bullies come in all shapes and sizes, and if they can’t use their muscles they’ll use covert aggression or passive aggression instead. A covert-aggressive bully will carefully hide his /her harmful intent in order to manipulate an unaware target. He/she avoids direct confrontation and uses secretive actions, gossip and plotting to isolate and “destroy” the target. A passive –aggressive bully is often a master manipulator, constantly blaming others and pretending to be a victim. These types of aggressors are notorious procrastinators, sabotaging progress and creating chaos in a team; they are often driven by jealousy and fear of competition. A passive-aggressive bully may act “friendly” but will make sure that you are not informed or misinformed, not invited or excluded. He/she will pretend to be cooperative, helpful or may even ask for your help. If you neglect your own duties to help the poor, “helpless co-worker”, do not expect gratitude. You may discover that the poor one’s task has already been accomplished and that the bully asked for your help only to slow down your own work. You may also overhear that you refused to help, did poor work and that you lack empathy…

Direct or “undercover”, bullies try to control others, because they feel in control only when they intimidate, manipulate and harass. Unable to cope with their own negative feelings and insecurities, they aim to silence people who have something that they would like to have.




Verbal abuse.


It’s not only about what a bully says, it’s also about the manner he/she says it, it’s about patronizing, lack of respect for one’s boundaries and freedom of expression, it’s about cruel mockery…If you dare to have a nice conversation with co-workers/friends a bully will feel obliged to “intervene”. A direct aggressor will chime in, won’t stop interrupting, will try to ridiculize you and to persuade others to have fun at your expense. A raging bully who charges so directly is easily spotted and even if she/he has some equally primitive fans, many people will be fed up with the bully’s obnoxious behaviour. Even if some will not openly comment on the poor entertainment (in fear of being bullied on their turn), you have a better chance of finding a witness or/and an ally than it may be in the case of an indirect aggression.

A “shy” bully will approach the group to listen politely. He/she will show a great interest in the topic that is being discussed. His/her comments and “gentle” mockery will be aimed at belittling you. Attacking directly or using covert aggression, a bully will always pretend to be astonished that his/her jokes seem to be offensive. The bully will try to convince others to think what she/he wants them to think and to portray you as an oversensitive person and a party pooper lacking social skills and sense of humour…

A bully wants to have his/her own way and will resort to threats to get it. A threat is nothing less than a form of brain washing and a bully will not hesitate to use a wide variety of coercive methods to control you and/or to punish you for “non-compliance”. A bully wants to show you that she/he decides what you can and can’t do to make you feel diminished and helpless. No matter if a bully suggests not so enigmatically” You will regret it! “, threatens you with physical harm, blackmails you or is “obliged” to dump unrealistic workload on you, it’s not about you and it’s not your fault. It’s always about the bully’s delusion of power and control.


Physical aggression.


How far can a bully go? It’s unlikely that a bully will improve his/her behaviour. Since the limits will not be set by the bully, they must be set for the bully.

Bullying happens all over the world and all over the world there are cases where bullying led to suicide, violence resulting in physical disability, chronic depression.

Physical aggression à la bully will always be an unprovoked physical attack aiming at demonstration of bully’s dominance. A direct attack is also the most direct and obvious form of bullying so it can be easily detected and should be dealt with immediately.

Bullies are opportunistic cowards so they will use assault as a form of aggression only when and where they can get away with it. A bully who used to kick, beat and push other kids at school will later alter his methods and use a less blatant form of aggression. An adult bully who can’t just drag you around the office by your hair, can still try to initiate unwanted physical contact by patting your back,” jokingly” (but painfully…) pinching you, leaning on your shoulder or grabbing your arm. Unwanted touching in the workplace shouldn’t be mistaken for a sign of informal friendliness as it is a bully’s way to impose his/her domination and “mark the territory”.




What a bully can’t “achieve”alone, he/she will try to obtain with help of his/her “fan club”. Needless to say, bully’s sidekicks are cowardly, frustrated individuals who feel that joining in the “fun” will help them feel better about themselves, and/or will help to turn attention from their own mediocrity. Bully in chief will encourage persecution and harassment aimed at imposing his/her “supremacy” on the target. To destabilize you, a bully will spread   malicious rumours and members of bully’s “club” will be expected to do their best to ruin your reputation and to isolate you. Mobbing is a grave threat to the target’s health and life. No matter if mobbing takes place at school, in a company or in the military, the leaders who choose to close their eyes on the collective campaign to ruin someone’s life, fail to fulfil their duties. Our society, no matter the continent, big city or small reservation is less and less compassionate; children are learning that people are “losers” or “winners”, too many people think that failure to assist to a person in danger is not a big deal…Lack of empathy is the root of all bullying, and harassment must be fought in the strongest terms and involving all systems (educational, legal, healthcare…).Delegating responsibility for “suicide prevention” to a physician who “should prescribe anti-depressants” and sending a “target” back to bully’s play-ground is not enough.