On Saturday I went to a talk on empathy by Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, I always think Sacha too. It’s a problem.)
I wasn’t 100% taken in my his reasoning of cruelty being due to diminished empathy, but I’m pretty confident that his book will be more plausible. It’s difficult to explain a nuanced scientific argument in a 40-minute talk to laypeople.
One thing that struck and surprised me though, was his use of “they” and “we” in the talk. He talked compellingly about autism and how a lack of cognitive empathy (understanding how someone feels) does not imply a lack of affective empathy (acting appropriately on that person’s emotions), but throughout he referred to autistic people as “they”. “We” act like this but “those autistic people” act in this other way.
Surely it’s not a stretch to think that there must have been a fair number of non-neurotypical people in the audience. Wouldn’t “those of us who are autistic” and “those of us who are not autistic” have been a better way of putting it?
I’m always a little sensitive to in-group and out-group talk. I wasn’t wildly happy about Robin Ince painting religious people as the out-group either, even though I’m currently sidling back into his atheist camp.
At these large events, surely it’s obvious that you’ll have a range of views. But in smaller contexts it can be even more important, or you get a one-person out-group. I’ve certainly been that person. “Let’s send this sexist joke to the engineers group, it’s almost all men”.
I am absolutely sure I’ve made the mistake myself of using a vaguely-defined or non-inclusive “we”. I’m going to try to work on that. I think we (those who write and speak in public) all should.