Empathy is learned. Not like sympathy, which can be taught in school or via social activity, empathy is something that somewhere along the line either we gather or we don't. In fact, if you followed empathy to its source, you'd find somewhere down the line a repeated pattern of behavior wherein a person is unable to turn away from his or her fellow man or woman. He or she sees a bit of himself or herself in that person in need of a helping hand, or a small sliver of humanity. Empathy may be the most valuable thing we have as human beings.
Not to knock sympathy, I mean, of course we all need sympathy, but it's not the same. A sympathetic person can toss a few bucks into a tin cup and be on their way. I have family members like that, who think that tossing a few bucks to help a charity every now and again makes them a good person. And, sure, all things considered, the money probably means a lot to the organizations that it helps, but, in total, the giver understands very little of the meaning of the gift.
It's this disconnect that has elected officials blind and deaf to the plight of the people, no matter how many rise against injustices. Whether you're for or against current health care reform, look after our people. Listen to them, hear their words. Health care reform has become so politicized, it would be funny, except that we're playing with people's lives. And, keep in mind, that health care debates would not be such an issue, had our economy not tanked in the very first place. Now we're still bleeding out, and sick people unable to pay for health insurance is one of the unfortunate consequences. Whomever you want to blame, chicken or egg, is nothing compared to this all-you-can-eat buffet of political warfare we have going on. Empathy, folks! Get it together!
Anyway, I'm feeling those little bumpy freeway truck thingys that are telling me that I'm off the main road. Lack of empathy distances people, while empathy brings together those who would never have met. Empathy has gotten me through tough times myself, so I understand its power. The cool thing about empathy is that it's not work. Sympathetic people feel as though, if they volunteer to do something, that they are lifting the weight of the world in one powerful swoop from the backs of unfortunates for just a short time, and oi vay, is that exhausting! Empathy is more like the Nike slogan, you don't think about it, it just flows out naturally, and you can do so much with it without even thinking about it. Just one person, just one simple gift, can mean the world to another human being (or animal, or whatever).
I don't know if non-empathic people can learn empathy later in life, but I guess that anything's possible. Empathy education? I'd put my money in that tin cup.