Empathy and Faceplants

A few minutes ago, I looked down at my fingers, and I saw the scars on my left middle and ring fingers from a pretty jarring (and more than a little embarrassing) fall I took on the front entrance to Butler High School back in December.

And my mind drifted to this question:  are human beings instinctively empathetic, or is empathy learned?

From what I remember when I fell in front of Butler High School - 

  1. A lot of high school kids saw a middle-aged woman take an enormous face plant onto the pavement.
  2. Of all those kids, the majority of them actively turned in my direction, did not laugh, and genuinely showed concern for my well-being, with a few of them coming over to me to make sure I was OK.
  3. A few of them passively continued doing what they were doing - which could also have been a form of empathy - they could have seen I was embarrassed, afforded me the social equivalent of privacy.
  4. Of all the kids who witnessed the incident, I don’t remember seeing anyone laugh.

This makes me think empathy is a base instinct BEFORE it becomes an evolving, more sophisticated learned behavior.