How do empathetic beings stay unbiased?

November 19, 2012 JAlfonso No comments exist

I’ll never forget the day I was sitting down with my fiancée and her bridesmaids watching a tragic movie. At the end of the movie, during a heart-wrenching scene, I began to feel the emotion welling up inside. I was about to cry, so instead I burst out in laughter. Needless to say, none of the women in the room were amused as all of their makeup was ruined by running mascara.

Human empathy is an amazing and powerful virtue we humans possess. We have this natural ability to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and feel deep emotion as if we were living their experience. A classic example of this is the husband that feels sympathy pain while the wife is in labor. When we see someone in pain, we find a way to relate to that person drawing up our own painful experiences and although the experience might not exactly be the same, it does allow us to experience and imagine the trauma.

Ethically, interpreters are supposed to be unbiased, yet it probably is the hardest thing for interpreters to do. Why is this often the case? From a logical, cerebral standpoint, staying unbiased makes sense. From an emotional perspective, the empathetic beings that we are, refusing to take sides for a victim seems morally wrong. This is why using untrained persons as interpreters are dangerous. Your average bilingual person, including family members and friends are likely to become emotionally compromised and fight for a victim guided by a strong moral compass. Their defense of the client comes from a conviction that they are helping a suffering person.

Qualified, trained interpreters have learned that the greatest service they can provide is staying true to the message. Being unbiased and true to the message will allow all parties involved to eventually find the answers they need.  Legal or medical advice should be left to the lawyers and doctors. Interpreters giving any kind of advice when they are not qualified can only do more harm than good.

After a while, working with people going through trauma can take its toll on interpreters.  They have to be aware that they are affected and suppress the empathetic feeling until after the appointment. Later I would like to discuss what steps I have taken to manage the stresses.

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