We were talking at work the other day about films which had the power to make us sad, how simply by watching a fictional character on a screen we can feel so moved that we end up crying and deeply emotional. I also increasingly find myself bursting into tears listening to stories of children being badly treated or neglected.
It's as if I have a physical connection with those who are suffering. The feeling seems to rest in the middle of my chest somewhere and makes sense of the phrase "tugging at your heart strings". I am not just simply identifying with the people involved nor even transferring my own emotions onto their situations, those these things are obviously happening too. It is a much more direct experience of a shared sadness.
I saw a link on a blog today to a video of the journalist Daniel Pearl being killed (and no I am not going to reproduce the link). Mixed with a morbid fascination about what the video contained I also had that same strange tugging feeling in my chest - it was as if I could directly feel his fear and sadness.
Is it the absence of this feeling of connectedness that allows people to commit atrocities? How do you carry out some of the awful things which happen in the world without any sense of identification to the person you are doing it to?