The Irish are great sympathisers, but poor empathisers

Lack of empathy comes about because of political regimes and religion

Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, TD, with Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, at the launch of Women’s Aid ‘Impact Report’ in May: Dara Mac Dónaill

Minister for Children & Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone, TD, with Margaret Martin, Director of Women’s Aid, at the launch of Women’s Aid ‘Impact Report’ in May: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

The National Safeguarding Committee was established in 2014 to promote the rights of adults who may be vulnerable, including people with dementia, mental health problems, or physical and intellectual disabilities. It has recently launched a campaign about what constitutes abuse, which includes taking money without a person’s knowledge, over-medicating, and psychological abuse such as shouting, name-calling and using force to control the vulnerable adult. These are all forms of bullying and unfortunately caregivers are often the bully.

Almost 8,000 concerns about vulnerable adult abuse concerns were reported to the HSE in 2016. Physical abuse was the most common type of abuse reported among 18-64 year olds, followed by psychological and sexual abuse. Psychological abuse was the most common type of abuse reported among over-65s, followed by physical and financial abuse.

A survey of 1,004 adults, Vulnerable Adults in Irish Society: Nationwide Public Opinion Survey 2016, found that almost half of the population has experienced or observed abuse of a vulnerable adult. Some one-third has witnessed physical abuse and another third has experienced or witnessed emotional abuse. A majority of respondents (84 and 81 per cent, respectively) were unclear as to what constitutes psychological and financial abuse. Surely everyone over 18 knows that stealing money is wrong?

No surprise

Fortunately, fewer schoolchildren are now being bullied. Trends in Health Behaviours, Health Outcomes and contextual factors between 1998 and 2014: Findings from the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC), shows that there was a statistically significant decrease in the percentage of children who reported bullying others in the past couple of months (25 per cent in 1998; 13 per cent in 2014). School bullying policies are working which is good news.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about domestic violence – another form of bullying - which is on the increase. Last year, Women’s Aid received 20,769 domestic violence disclosures. Like the vulnerable adults group, psychological abuse was the most common type of abuse followed by physical abuse, financial abuse and sexual abuse. The vast majority of perpetrators of domestic violence are men who deliberately use abusive behaviour to control their partners. Media campaigns designed to prevent domestic violence have had no impact. Domestic violence is not taken seriously enough by the justice system. Recently a man who beat his girlfriend and threatened to set her on fire was sentenced to just two-and-a-half years, with 18 months suspended.

Workplace bullying

Prof Pat Dolan, Unesco chair of the Child and Family Research Centre in NUI, Galway, says “bullying and all the way to violent extremism” happen because of an absence of empathy. The centre wants compulsory empathy education provided in schools. Theoretically, the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) school programme is supposed to teach empathy, but it mostly teaches children about themselves: self-care, self-confidence and self-esteem. Empathy is about understanding and respecting the rights of others. The Irish are great sympathisers, but poor empathisers. Had the nation been more empathetic from the 1920s onwards there would have been no Magdalene laundries or mother and baby homes. No babies would have been taken from their mothers and sold or given away.

Lack of empathy comes about because of political regimes (think of the Nazis) and the influence of religion.

Empathy and religion are incompatible and the Catholic Church is partly responsible for the lack of empathy in Irish people. Social media further reduces levels of empathy in society.

While it is sickening to think of vulnerable adults being bullied, everyone is at risk. Maybe it’s time to have a National Safeguarding Committee to protect all age groups. Unless countries strive to improve population empathy levels, humans are on the road to extinction.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.