I'm short on cash. Should I rob that convienience store?

You are down to your last twenty bucks, and people are streaming in and out of the convenience store across the street. There’s money in the register and a gun in your pocket. Should you rob the store?

Most people would listen to that question, laugh, and say, Of course not! That’s because most people have enough empathy to realize that robbing someone will cause them great distress. The ability to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes – and an appreciation that other people have rights too – is enough to curtail most of our worst impulses.

We may not articulate such thoughts consciously, but they run through our minds at moments like that. We might also consider risk to ourselves or the possibility of jail, but for most people empathy stops us short. We just don’t do really bad stuff to other people, most of the time.

We say, It’s wrong to rob people! I just would not do it! And that’s probably true for most of us, but it has to be based on something. That something is empathy. You might even say empathy is the neurological foundation of the Golden Rule we all heard as children.

So did empathy take a back seat to logic, or is empathy just a “sometimes” thing?

The person standing in front of the store with a gun clearly has alternatives to robbery. He could get a job, seek a meal from a soup kitchen, apply for emergency public aid, or even panhandle. The thing is, none of those options provide the quick cash fix that walking in and grabbing the till delivers.

Empathy may act as a subtle mental push – it may even push hard at times – but we have to be willing to listen. All too often, we allow ourselves to be subsumed by greed, laziness, and the dream of winning it all without any work.

If you doubt that, look at the success of state mega-millions lotteries. Everyone who flocks to the lottery hopes for an easy score.

Our brains seem hardwired to support the empathetic moral choices. We talk about “working hard” for something, and “feeling so much better in the end.” And I think that’s true. I know it has been, for my own life. Yet the temptation of easy fixes is strong. That’s why society constructs barriers. Marriage and property division laws make it hard to blow up a relationship in the blink of an eye. The threat of prison deters some from robbing stores.

Sometimes people ask if those of us with Asperger’s are blind to such things, because our empathy isn’t triggered by the same factors that work on nypicals. In situations like those I described, I actually think we Aspergians may act more empathetically, because our social blindness – our difficulty reading other people – often causes us to consider our moves more carefully and logically, and that gives more chances for us to make a good or right choice.

We are also more likely to be swayed by logic, and in most cases the logical arguments for getting a job over robbing a store are strong. Sometimes, the same is true for keeping the guy or the girl.

There is no doubt in my mind that Asperger’s has helped develop my sense of right and wrong, because I am such a reflective and logical person as a result of it. At the same time, I acknowledge that my morality may have been slow to develop because it took many more years for me to develop a true awareness of other people, due to the Aspergian weaknesses in my sensory apparatus.

Will society and your mind’s barriers hold you back this holiday season, or will you go robbing and shattering? This holiday season, I hope for the best for you. Think carefully before you act and be mindful of the increased stress at this time of year. January will be here before you know it.


Very Interesing.. i liked the article.
mama edge said…
I can certainly see the association you make between robbery and domestic violence: both are violations that a person uses to solve his/her short term need. A robber takes another's money to temporarily ease his/her financial difficulties. A spouse-beater takes another's emotional/physical health away to avoid his/her own distress and self-esteem struggles. Both are illegal, immoral, and destructive to the fabric of society.

How does a capricious break-up relate to these? I suppose you could argue that the girl in your example has stolen her partner's trust with her seemingly out-of-the-blue repudiation. But it's obviously illegal, and depending on her reasons, it may be the most moral and society-affirming choice. The "easy way out" may have been for her to stay in a relationship that harms her, so as not to harm her partner. This would be robbing herself, wouldn't it? Robbing herself of the opportunity to have a healthy, loving relationship that she currently doesn't have?

I've been on both sides of these break-ups, and in the end, I believe they were all for the best. Then again, I have never had anything close to the healthy, loving relationship that I want and, I think, deserve. I've settled for less and endured YEARS of couples retreats and counseling and pain in hopes of keeping a relationship that simply didn't merit all the effort.

Don't know why I'm writing all this. Your posts always make me think. For that, I am very grateful.
mama edge said…
I meant that a breakup obviously is NOT illegal. Ooops.
Unknown said…
Watching one of my favorite shows, "House, M.D.", I heard the line "People seek the paths in life that grant them the greatest rewards for the least amount of effort." That's what came to mind when I read this.

I agree that empathy and morality play a subtle yet powerful role in our decision-making processes, but I also believe that it requires a certain amount of conscious effort to do the "right" thing. Those that commit crimes against others or break off relationships without considering the other person's feelings seem not to want to put this effort forth.
Christine said…
My son who is really quite amazing (I promise you he is, but you may not believe me after you read my comment) has come up with a solution for global warming. His thing is animals, the environment ect ect. He can tell you anything about anything. I laughed when you talked in your book about coming up with random lies that other people believe. Dylan does this, because he is smarter than us (and he knows it dang it).
Back to the story......in his mind he has thought the whole problem through. His solution...humans must go...extinct that is.....as a species we are ruining the planet. He has gone so far as to write essays and make contest entries on the subject. I couldn't figure out why he didn't understand that NO ONE, EVER, ANY WHERE was going to go for this. And then I read your post Empathy, that is the missing piece. Can I buy that on e-bay, and have it delivered by next week?
Justthisguy said…
Ain't you married to an NT gal? One with normally acute female color vision? Is she mad at you?

I mean, why did she let you out in public while you were wearing that shirt?

WV: resswoom. Where Pwogwessives go to pee?
Justthisguy said…
Dammit! commented on the wrong post again. Please assume that I commented on the latest post, the one with the picture of Mr. Robison wearing ugly shirt and electric brain hat.

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