Empathy and differentness
Empathy is derived from the German word 'Einfühlung', which gradually came into use in the 19th century, originally a term to describe obtaining an increased understanding of art (2). The term is composed of the Greek en, which means 'in', and pathos, 'feeling' or 'suffering', in other words 'in-feeling': the ability to vicariously experience somebody else's thoughts and emotions (3). The word makes a key point: that we are both participants and spectators at the same time, both inside and outside, as we are when we read The Metamorphosis.
Kafka (1883–1924) grew up in a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family. Although conscious of his family background, he considered himself an outsider to Jewish culture. At one point he declared himself an atheist and started attending socialist meetings. In his final years, however, he took a growing interest in Jewish culture and language (4–6). As a member of a minority and with antisemitism on the rise, he learned what belonging to a stigmatised group feels like. Public debates on eugenics and racial hygiene were already taking place long before the turn of the century, and in his final years, Kafka considered moving to Palestine.
Kafka wished to spend his time writing, but he needed to obtain an education for a profession that could earn him a living. After studying law, he worked long days in an insurance company, leaving him little time to write. His days were spent on earning a living; this was what gave him worth in the eyes of his family. He finally contracted tuberculosis, causing his throat to swell up. He was unable to take any sustenance and died in 1924, at the age of only 40 years (4–6).