Dear Dr. Hwang:
“Is it normal not to feel sorry for rapists or murderers?”
This question is complicated and deserves a thoughtful response. Therefore, I’d like to respond carefully. I believe this particular question has run through the minds of many people at one point or another. However, the question as it is written, may be open to a variety of interpretations. In attempt to be clear, I will carefully and explicitly state definitions of terms and phrases to hopefully close potential gaps of uncertainty.
To begin with, I have learned that, “Normal,” is overused and often refers to perceptions based on one’s self-interests and a personal value system. This is neither, good or bad. It is simply what I’ve observed. I am not an expert, as I often feel uniquely different.
We often use the term, “Normal,” to refer to what we think is typical. However, when it comes to the human condition, normal doesn’t exist.
What is normal? Too often it is used to value or devalue another person’s worth. Normal is a term that has lost its meaning because it’s over used. In essence we are all uniquely different. To state, “What’s normal and what isn’t normal?” is a daunting and an almost impossible task.
Some psychological research attempts to explain what normal is, by using information extracted from studies. The information used implies patterns and trends, based on human studies about behavior and attributes. However, almost always the sample size of humans used to create hypothesis are extremely small and should never be used to form assumptions about others, nor should research be used to represent a group of people.
Next, to feel sorry for someone is likely a thought that many of us have had at one time or another? But, feeling sorry for someone versus extending true empathy are two different behaviors. It’s my understanding that feeling sorry for someone means that a person feels pity for another and is glad that they are not that person or in that person’s situation.
This expression may assume that one person has more or less value? It assumes that one person is more fortunate or less fortunate than another. Empathy on the other hand, means to have compassion and understanding for an individual. The differences between, feeling sorry for someone and empathy may seem small, but are important. They’re important because empathy requires compassion and asks a person to recognize someone’s character, strengths and weaknesses, all at the same time with understanding.
Finally, people who engage in behavior that is legally defined as rape or murder exists. Are there people who are labeled rapists and murderers? Yes. I do not mean to minimize the tragic fact that too many people are victims of violent crimes every day, in fact- every hour. It is often an overwhelming and extremely sad fact.
At the same time, I cannot state with any kind of certainty whether or not a person who has engaged in an act of violence deserves sympathy or not. Each person whose behavior is deemed criminal is different and each situation is relative. Any violation by one human onto another is always tragic in my mind and it creates a complex set of feelings that are difficult to comprehend.
A person’s response to a perception of another person’s actions is highly individuated. Do I recognize that some people do not feel sorry for other’s who have engaged in the victimization of others? Yes. Do I think it is normal? I honestly do not know what, “Normal,” is when it comes to the human condition. Do I understand why people have an array of feelings? Absolutely. Therefore, to respond to our question, “Is it normal not to feel sorry for rapists or murderers?” My response is, “I believe it is not uncommon for people to have a broad range of intense feelings when it comes to crimes against people.