The beloved Oxford English Dictionary has variously defined a sociopath as
"Someone with a personality disorder manifesting itself chiefly in anti-social attitudes and behaviour"; the newly edited definition (March 2009) is "Originally: a person who performs criminal or antisocial acts as a result of a moderate degree of mental deficiency (disused). In later use (also hyperbolically): a person affected with sociopathy; a psychopath".
What neuropsychologists now know is that a sociopath seems to be hardwired differently, missing (and this is my simplification) a response of distress or anxiety when seeing other creatures in pain.
That we are generally hardwired to experience a distress response makes perfect sense. Humans though lacking many predators are fundamentally (and comparatively within diverse species) underdeveloped to protect ourselves well. We therefore need to fend not just for ourselves but also for each other. A reaction of extreme anxiety to one of our fellow tribe (and this could include the animals we shared floors, work and companionship with for centuries) is our way of knowing to wake up and check, to protect each other from danger and ensure our lone and group survival.
A baby particularly is woefully underdeveloped to fend for itself upon birth, and in fact does much of its useful development (strengthening its neck, being able to roll, being able to direct arm movement) in what some call “the fourth trimester’, or it’s first three months post-womb.
But still it’s not much in the way of survival tools, so my baby is programmed to program new responses into my brain through its cries.
There are many baby cries:
HUNGRY! In my bub this has a lament wa-wa-wa-wa sound
POO- how dare there be POO in my nappy? This sounds outraged beyond belief!
And many more….
But there is one that we all fundamentally know.
It is the cry of a beloved human in deep sadness, the cry of newborn animal we’ve taken into the home as a pet or a distressed older animal that is sick.
It is the cry that says “help, I feel very alone and scared and confused". It is the cry that calls for immediate touch, though sometimes we don’t realize that as immediatley as we should.
It is the cry that sets a flash of hot electric blue light pulsing round our head. It is the cry that hurts! We can’t ignore it, we must wake up, get up, attend.
Parent or not we all know that cry.
And in our response lies the essence of being both human and humane.