Here is a story of serendipity leading to strategy leading to meaningful accomplishment.
Elizabeth Hess, author of 'Nim Chimpsky', was looking for an opportunity to write a biography of an extraordinary animal. That animal would eventually be Nim, the chimp, who was brought up as a human baby in Manhattan (and then dumped back into a world of captive chimps where he didn't belong). She came to know of Nim while she was working on the following story and met Dr. Stephanie LaFarge.
Dr. LaFarge was Nim's first human "mom" who, somewhat naively, eagerly, even earnestly, took Nim from his chimp mom.
On a day when multiple alerts pointed me to an article that argued that ability to empathize will be the top skill employers look for among job applicants in 2020, I also get to read this article on empathy and disgust. The long and short of it is that empathy is a learned capacity, as is disgust. Easy enough, it seems. But what do we do when empathy and disgust are both culture-specific?
Take for example my attitude toward animals. At age 12, in grade 6, I cared for a mouse that somebody rescued in the field somewhere. Adults were repulsed by this mouse, but I put it inside my shirt and went about my day. Someone suggested that I should become a vet as someone always did throughout my youth when they saw me rescue crows, squirrels, paralyzed kittens. So I went to vet school. Vet school opened my eyes to the role of veterinarians in world food security, poverty alleviation and reducing the impact of zoonotic diseases.
Now, I worry when I think of my children rescuing feral mice, rabbits, racoons, dogs. Plague, parasites, rabies...All I can think of is exposure to infectious agents. And I have constructed, in my mind, a hierarchy of empathy. People come first -- working to ensure less malnutrition in the world ranks high on my list of values. I am disgusted with our apathy when I think of children hungry for food; their parents hungrier for more of life's opportunities. With age and specialization, the cultural context of my existence has gradually changed. And so has my conscious choice and ability to empathize or feel disgust.