In med school we are often told that we need to show empathy towards our patients. Is empathy similar to or the same thing as benevolence?
asked Jul 13 '11 at 08:37
Show empathy? Right off, that's a mistaken idea. See here: http://robin.hubpages.com/hub/Sympathy_vs_Empathy . Empathy is the capacity to experience or share another person's emotions. Presumably the way this works is that you identify with the other person, and so you feel, to a large extent, what they feel.
The idea that one should "show empathy" for a patient strikes me as dishonest. It implies that you should pretend to feel what your patient is feeling, even if you cannot identify with them. Perhaps it means to "try to identify" with your patient, but that raises the question: "how might I do that?" The best answer is the well worn phrase: "try to put yourself in his shoes," or "imagine yourself in his situation."
But "showing empathy" is, in fact, impossible without at least the step of visualization or identification. You can't show empathy if you don't have empathy.
Regarding this topic, I highly recommend the film "The Doctor", starring William Hurt.
Note that empathy regards feeling the same emotions as someone else. Those could be positive emotions, or negative. Happy or sad, or angry. Empathy is based on identifying with another person.
Benevolence is a totally different thing. It's often defined as a state of "good will" towards others. It's the state of mind which results from the belief that every person is a potential value in one's own life. Contrast this with malevolence, which results from the belief that every person is a potential threat to one's well-being.
Benevolence and malevolence are emotions regarding other people. Empathy is the capacity to identify with and experience another person's emotional state.