Concept of the Month -- May 2012

A Note on the Criminal's Lack of Empathy

It is hardly surprising to someone coming upon this "concept of the month" to read that criminals lack empathy. But most people have no idea of how totally foreign it is for a criminal to put himself in the place of another person.

The criminal sees the world as a chessboard with people and objects being like pawns for him to maneuver at will. This is often referred to as a "sense of entitlement." But it goes far beyond that. If asked who was hurt by a crime he committed, an offender may acknowledge the obvious such saying about a burglary he committed, "The guy missed his stuff." But he has no idea whatsoever of how terrifying it is for a person to return to his home and find that it has been invaded. The victim's sense of security has been shattered and he is unlikely to ever experience the same sense of safety that he had before the crime. But the criminal does not regard a victim as a victim. Instead, he is the victim because now he is in trouble and faces a possible penalty.

Bullying occurs for a criminal's amusement or self-gratification. He builds himself up by tearing others down. One man in jail told me that he thought he could do anything he wanted to another inmate with impunity. He honed in on what he considered the man's fear, his reticence to stand up for himself and then did whatever he pleased including secretly urinating in the man's water cup. The more terrified his cellmate was, the greater the contempt for him that the perpetrator had.

Some years ago in Minneapolis, a probation officer told me that a probation client inquired in all seriousness, "This empathy thing; what's in it for me?" As amusing as this may seem on the surface, it really says it all. Empathy is totally antithetical to the criminal's psychological makeup for he regards himself as the hub of a wheel around which everyone else must revolve.

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