Judith Hall and Mark Leary in Scientific American:
America is a country in deep pain. The coronavirus pandemic, racial injustice, economic insecurity, political polarization, misinformation and general daily uncertainty dominate our lives to the point that many people are barely able to cope. And life wasn’t exactly a cakewalk before 2020. Out of all the fears, stresses and indignities our citizens are living with, there emerges a kind of primal insecurity that undermines every aspect of life right now. It’s no wonder that anxiety, depression and other psychological problems are on the rise.
Whenever people are troubled or hurting or dealing with serious problems, they want to feel that other people understand what they are going through and are concerned. But opportunities to give and receive empathy feel less than adequate these days: decreased social interaction, online get-togethers, air hugs and masked conversations are not quite up to the task—and people are often so preoccupied with their own struggles that they aren’t as attuned to other people’s problems as they otherwise might be.
On top of that, everyone is confronted with people who seem indifferent. Some of our leaders have dismissed the seriousness of their fellow Americans’ plight. Some ordinary Americans convey a lack of concern when they refuse to socially distance and wear face coverings, or criticize those who do. The fact that a recent Gallup poll showed that roughly a third of the country doesn’t think there’s a problem with race relations suggests that many people aren’t grasping other people’s perspectives.