April 14



You either have it (and give a shit) or you don’t (and don’t give a shit).

That was actually written to me in a reply by some cockwomble on LinkedIN.

See, she’d originally posted some motivational and “uplifting” quote about empathy, seemingly suggesting it was one of the highest human ideals (the suggestion being if you don’t have it, then you’re a bad, unpleasant, and possibly even evil person).

All well and good, except for one thing: she’s completely fucking wrong.

There are two views of empathy: the affective view and the cognitive view. To talk of “empathy” as a single monolithic trait makes no sense (unless you’re a mis-, ill-, and, uninformed pop-psychologist with nary a pair of braincells to rub together).

From Baron-Cohen S., & Wheelwright, S. (2004). “The Empathy Quotient: An Investigation of Adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and Normal Sex Differences”. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, Vol. 34, No. 2, April 2004:

“The affective approach defines empathy as an observer’s emotional response to the affective state of another…”

“Cognitive theories emphasize that empathy involves understanding the other’s feelings…”

Italics are mine (and I’m sure Baron-Cohen and Wheelright will be glad to be corrected by this fucktard).

Whatever… if you’re lacking in affective empathy, in particular, the mainstream view is there’s something wrong with you. I’ll come back to why this is both moot and bullshit in a moment.

Now, in common with many, if not most autistics I am severely lacking in affective empathy, and somewhat lacking in cognitive empathy.

And it’s worth making three points here.

First, the reason affective empathy — sometimes called emotional contagion — is so prized as a human trait is…

… 98.57% of people have it.

And there’s no other reason.

If the positions were reversed and having no empathy was the norm, you’d be considered a weakling and a freak if you did have it.

But it’s neither intrinsically good or bad.

It just is.

And yet it’s so much a “thing”, there’s an entire book been written about it (Emotional Contagion, by Elaine Hatfield, John T. Cacioppo, and Richard Rapson).

But in a world made for and by NTs, if you don’t have affective empathy and so don’t suffer from emotional contagion, there must be something wrong with you.

You’re broken at best, and an evil, unfeeling, and uncaring psychopath at worst.

Secondly, following on from this, those of us who don’t have affective empathy are not only apparently defective, but it also makes us bad people.

Ah, the classic “out group”.

Not one of “us”.

But there’s a problem: if you think this, then you’re conflating and confusing affective empathy with compassion, caring, and concern for or about someone or the situation.

Simply put, having no affective empathy is not the same as not caring for others.

Consider this scenario:

  1. Mrs EBGs father died and she was upset.
  2. Because I don’t have affective empathy I didn’t share in her grief (although I felt a little sad for Charlie, her dad, because he was a lovely bloke). That was nothing to do with Mrs EBG’s emotional response, though.
  3. Since I do have some cognitive empathy, I did understand Mrs EBG was upset, and why this was.
  4. And because she is Mrs EBG, I cared because I don’t want her to be upset.

Simple, eh?

And thirdly… without trying to make excuses, whether having affective empathy is intrinsically good or bad is moot, because we autistics frequently don’t have the neurological machinery to feel it.

We can’t help it, in other words.

To be fair, I wouldn’t want it even if I could have it, but that, too, is moot. The best I could ever do is pretend, and any NTs worth their salt would see through that in a heartbeat, so I don’t bother.

Criticising us for it and labelling us as unfeeling and uncaring is profoundly crass and ignorant (and who’s lacking in empathy when you do that, eh?). It’s like criticising an epileptic for having a fit and spilling your coffee, and then calling her careless.

I’m guessing this all sounds pretty bleak, right?

But you’re wrong.

Apart from anything else, I don’t know any different. I’ve always been this way. And from where I’m sitting, catching other people’s emotions is more of an affliction than anything else.

It seems much easier and simpler not to be drawn into other people’s emotional baggage.

It seems more sensible and — frankly — saner to be able to keep a clear, logical head when everyone else is freaking out and panicking. In a crisis or moments of import I’m as cold, clinical, and dispassionate as a gangland execution.

I see that as a virtue. And if not a virtue, it’s a definite advantage (and benefit of my autism). As I’ve said before, this would make me a great leader, but a crap politician.

Judge me for this if you want, but remember you’re doing so from the position of one of the afflicted, as well as falling into the trap of thinking because I’m a member of a tiny minority, it’s somehow incumbent on my to aspire to your standards, the standards of the majority.

It’s not, I’m not going to, and I don’t even want to (and, ironically, the lack of affective empathy you’ll judge me for is the very reason I won’t give a fuck about what you think or feel about it).

I’m not broken or faulty. I’m just different and I don’t need fixing. Rather, Its need to stop trying to insist I and others try to be “normal”.

What’s this to do with business?



Because if you’re ever fortunate enough to get to work with me, I won’t get sucked in by the emotional bullshit and baggage you have sticking to your business like snot on a blanket.

Another scenario for you:

  1. You come to me with a big ol’ gnarly problem in your business.
  2. Because I don’t have affective empathy I don’t share your angst about the problem discomfort about the solutions I’m suggesting. You can piss, moan, wail, and gnash your teeth all you want. I’ll feel nothing (except maybe slightly bored by the histrionics).
  3. Since I do have some cognitive empathy, I will understand you’re angsty, and why this is.
  4. And because you’re my client — someone under my special protection, the original meaning of the word — I will care.

Ultimately, if you want different solutions to your problems from the shit you’re trying now (assuming you’re trying anything at all, which is unlikely in my experience), then you need help from someone who thinks differently.

That someone would be me.

Click here for Ground Zero details

Or, if your need is urgent and you want to work with me one-on-one, message me here and we’ll arrange a time to talk.


P.S. Fascinating brain facts…

… there’s evidence to suggest we autistics have irregularities in the fusisform gyrus, a part of the brain believed to be critical in facial recognition, which would tend to explain why we have difficulty recognising facial expressions and thus contribute to our lack of affective empathy.


Because it’s likely this has an effect on our ability to recognise emotions in others (it also suggests one explanation of why I and others often find it difficult to recognise people if they change their hairstyles or other aspects of their appearance).


… this is the way I am.

Like it or lump it.

Click here for Ground Zero details


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