From slavery to genocide, society has shown a terrifying ability to disregard the personhood of others. Here’s why
For psychologists, distance is not just physical space. It is also psychological space, the degree to which you feel closely connected to someone else. … Distance keeps your sixth sense disengaged for at least two reasons. First, your ability to understand the minds of others can be triggered by your physical senses. When you’re too far away in physical space, those triggers do not get pulled. Second, your ability to understand the minds of others is also engaged by your cognitive inferences. Too far away in psychological space—too different, too foreign, too other—and those triggers, again, do not get pulled.
The mistake that can arise when you fail to engage with the minds of others is that you may come to think of them as relatively mindless. That is, you may come to think that these others have less going on between their ears than, say, you do. … the most basic and fundamental experience you have of your own mind: your sense of free will. … Are others as free to choose as you are, or do they have less free will? Are they more beholden to their circumstances or their environments or their rigid ideologies than you are?
When the mind of another person looks relatively dim because you are not engaged with it directly, it does not mean that the other person’s mind is actually dimmer. … More subtle versions of that disengagement are common, and the mistakes they create can lead us to be less wise about the minds of others than we could be.