Empathy And The Unicorn Farmers 🦄

Got this really interesting e-mail the other day:

Been thinking about this quite a bit.

There’s potentially a lot to be gained from different ways of thinking, and especially giving ourself permission to explore alternate ways to look at our reality.

While as we know I prefer the relative sanity of measurable data and repeatable experiments, some of my favorite friends are devout hippie unicorn farmers. And so many times I’ve found that certain ideas are better explored with their method, and some things can only be seen through the lens of the unicorn.

And I used to be totally mainstream. So there’s that also.

The more we can manage to be empathetic and open minded and curious about our various ways to explore life, the more we may also gain.

MAYBE. :thinking:


In short, keep an open mind :smiley: - edit: ignore the redundancy here

For me there’s no maybe about it. It might also be a good idea to stop using the term unicorn farmer, which I consider ad hominem. That label and the label woo-woo are used to put people in a ‘file and forget’ box. As Jordan Peterson says, it’s good to listen to other people, you might learn something.

As I preached to young Andrew not so long ago, assume good faith, steelman your opponent, and apply the principle of charitable interpretation.

I like Steve’s emphasis on empathy. Thoughts and ideas usually have emotions attached to them. I try, not always successfully, to understand the thought and the accompanying emotion. Of course this is much easier with face to face communication.


Fringe groups are a great place to culture ideas. 90% of those ideas are garbage, 9% are just rehashing old ideas with new language. 1% are worth investigating. If you don’t have the patience to sift through all that other stuff and the ambition to put the work in on investigating the 1%, it’s a waste of time. However, if you’ve got the motivation and the ability, you can occasionally pull out gold.

Between the hobby farm groups and the barefoot running groups (no, I’m not actually a barefoot runner, but minimalist shoe wearer, and those guys are masters of self-directed PT,) I’ve been involved with, I’ve seen intersection with a lot of other fringe groups.


Barefoot running sounds like a great idea since that is obviously how we evolved to run. Imagine a cheetah wearing shoes its whole life – seems like a recipe for anatomical disaster. Humans are no different. I get why some people view it as weird, though. It’s against the norm, a bit unusual.

How I separate an actual legitimate idea from new age nonsense is by asking a simple question, were humans doing it in their natural environment? Sleeping without a cozy pillow and not using shampoo – yes. Bathing in essential oils or wearing exotic crystals around your neck? Not so much.


I am currently reading “Duty,” by Robert M. Gates, and it is full of examples of thoughful empathy and its use in negotiation…as well as places where lack of ability to do so caused problems.

I would like to know where and how he learned these techniques and mindset. It feels like a path forward to both personal and professional growth and achievement.

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Right brain thinking makes the world less square!!

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Round pegs can fit into square holes, and vice versa, as long as there is enough wiggle room on all sides.
It’s obviously time for me to close shop. I had a hard day in the garden today.


Yea for once anyway I do have to agree. This and maybe the optometry attacks too. As we head towards “growing up” as a resource, I need to revisit some of my tendencies that are probably just fine with a very limited normal human audience / reach, but maybe unnecessarily divisive in this larger context.


This is just my opinion, but I do not believe in empathy. Empathy is real in the sense that it is a predictive mind state, but I do not believe it is a truly inherent component of humanity but more of a social adaptation sequence that can easily degrade a person into a false sense of reality. If anything empathy is a learned behavior, albeit one that comes more naturally to some people than others. I guess my point is empathy itself can be damaging (see: PETA) and more often than not, wrong. If you are a follower in any major spiritual practice, you may be familiar with the idea that the past and future do not exist anywhere but in the mind as a thought-form and because of this, it is not the truth… as human minds are fallible. The same is true for empathy. You have the hubris to think you can predict the mental state of another human being? (see: Resting Bitch Face) Really? Even Deanna Troi from Star Trek couldn’t do it half the time :smile:

To use crypto currency as an analogy, I accept that unicorns(bad crypto keys/bad ideas) will be or must be farmed/mined for the sake of finding the bitcoins(the real truth) and that every encryption permutation must be explored in order to find ALL the coins. However, I believe challenging a person’s beliefs is the best way to show you care about their path and to discover new coins. Unlike bitcoin mining, the human psyche will get stuck in a narrow bandwidth of thinking without some new abrupt stimulus. A shock to the ego from a confrontation has proven useful to my personal growth on many occasions even when the opposition was not very respectful. When people go unopposed or ignored, they stop growing and become destructive. Capitulating to other people’s delusions of empathy can breed chaos if left unchecked (see: Communism).

I farm unicorn all day long yo cuz the scientific community has failed us on so many levels (see: Food Guide Pyramid). If I start spitting unicornese, feel free to come at me bro… just leave your false empathy at the door.

I also dabble in a little trolling, it’s good for humanity’s zeitgeist immune system. It keeps us on our toes.


But empathy is not predicting what the other feels. Empathy more like trying to understand what the other feels. It more of a mindset than an action. Empathy has effect not because you know how the other feels but has effect by the process you explore the other person’s feeling. Which is usually greatly beneficial for the other. For this process you need the exact opposite than a “predicted mental state”. You need a totally clear mind and having no preconception or assumption of the other. If you have these then most of the time it will more be condescending than empathy.

Empathy only works if it is universal. If you have empathy for some (animals) and don’t have for others (humans) then it’s not empathy.


I think of empathy as something like this:

Given a certain set of life experiences, and “personality” / modalities of how to approach ideas or concepts, and maybe states of internal biochemistry … the outcome of emotional states in response to communication could be predicted (and might be the same for any one of us). Empathy? :thinking:

I can’t possibly predict or appreciate … empathize about which parameters you operate within, when we interact. Also of course, words are so vexingly subjective and lacking clear common definition for so many things. We’re communicating through this method of barely functioning simplified abstractions, with humans that are full of their own And different analytical tools to ‘decode’ our words.

So if I make some joke about being a holy eye guru, it could really offend somebody who is maybe finding solace and peace in some related spiritual experience, that to them I appear to be making fun of, and as extension, of them.

In effect by adding the sort of humor and sarcasm we do here, we maybe speak more to a certain group of people, and equally possible exclude another.

That’s sort of part of what I struggle with a bit. On one hand I’m mostly having fun if I get to be my own version of this flawed human and my way of expressing things, on the other I”m aware that I’m affecting, maybe limiting potential experiences for those seeking answers to the topic at hand - eyeballs.

Probably the real answer is having more than one voice, take, perspective on things. Like the podcast episodes, and individual progress reports, and various participants helping others.

I’d honestly probably be a whole lot less concerned if we didn’t live in this super weird time of everything-outrage and Twitter mobs. :smiley:

Or maybe don’t actually care. My mind changes on this all the time.

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@jakey, I for one will miss your mild mannered tongue-in-cheek style antics when the snowflake apocalypse sanitizes your psyche :smile:


“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

Empathy is hard for me. I mean I get that you are in pain, but I tend to be way too objective and looking at things from the outside. “You knew this was going to happen” “This is a result of your own actions” “If you’d just taken the time to do this the right way” “Why didn’t you ask me for help before this became a crisis I can’t solve in time?” I try though, because it does have value in building relationships, and sometimes I’m the one with the complete lack of foresight. I can totally just do a hug and keep my big fat mouth shut when it’s needed.

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I think the problem here is that empathy has different meanings and connotations for different people. For me empathy does not exclude challenging another person’s opinions or beliefs. It just means understanding the emotions that are linked to these, and doing the challenging without derision or scorn, after having listened carefully and not having closed off your mind at the first word or phrase that triggers your own biases. My daughter will tell you that I am not very good at that when it comes to heated discussions, but then neither is she. It is a hard skill for any of us to learn.
I also feel it necessary to distinguish between empathy, sympathy, and compassion. And then there is simple kindness, which has a different set of connotations.

But what if that pain is none of the person’s fault, own doing, lack of foresight, etc.?

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Yeah I second this. It’s not something you can understand the meaning of from hearing it for the first time as well. It also totally invites people to play an UNO reverse card and say but… but… you’re a unicorn farmer and the Bates method is real!!

Everyone deserves the gift of good eyesight. I agree with the Twitter outrage mob stuff, and the people who are currently here are generally conservatives ATM, but EM as a universal font of knowledge that has no opinion but that you can fix your eyes can’t be a bad thing, as it’ll expand its reach.

Or it can continue to be Jake’s ranty side thing, it’s not like you owe the world emmetropia or something :man_shrugging:

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Agree. As I see many people think both empathy and compassion is the same as sympathy.

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Life is Duhkha, that is predictable. It doesn’t have to be your fault to be predictable.

But yes, the less predictable the outcome the easier it is to feel their pain.

I’m compassionate, I help, I donate, I’m just somewhat detached, actually weeping with you is hard.


I am going to resist going down the deep rabbit hole of empathy, how it evolved, its neurobiology, and what its social function is, fascinating as this is likely to be.
This is another sidetrack Jake has started. I wonder why he does this. I suspect there is a deep psychological motive for it, but will refrain from trying to figure that out. :face_with_monocle:
Sometimes I wonder if he isn’t just plain bored with EM. :yawning_face:

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actually weeping with you is hard.

I think “weeping with you” is sympathy, not empathy. Empathy is more like “I understand why you are in pain” (regardless if you also feel it or not) versus “why are you crying you should be happy because of this and this”.

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