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3096 days

July 11, 2012

I’m sure those that attended will agree we had a great day on 6th July at the Tower of London discussing the use of appropriate and inappropriate empathy within museums and heritage and it felt that there were very informative discussions taking place.  It’s the empathy part that I want to focus on, and draw your attention to the tragic case of Natascha Kampusch, already the product of a troubled home, and who was kidnapped and kept in a cellar by Wolfgang Priklopil for eight years in Vienna before she escaped in 2006.  Priklopil later committed suicide after a police chase.

Some of you will be familiar with Jon Ronson, either from his TV work (I’d begin with Crazy Rulers of the World), his books (I’d recommend The Psychopath Test and you can hear his TED talk on the book here) or his journalism, and it’s the latter I’d like to draw your attention to.  Ronson is drawn to a variety of madness, both the extreme and every day, and while I can’t ever imagine him as a Gitta Sereny figure, he is non-judgemental in his approach and manages to navigate successfully discussions which could so easily descend into incoherence and confusion.

Ronson interviewed Kampusch in 2010 for a Guardian piece in which Kampusch states that her only means of survival was to empathise with her captor.  Quoting Ronson:

“I find it very natural that you would adapt yourself to identify with your kidnapper,” she says. “Especially if you spend a great deal of time with that person. It’s about empathy, communication. Looking for normality within the framework of a crime is not a syndrome. It is a survival strategy.” She pauses. “But people get annoyed when I say this. Some say I should be locked up again, that it isn’t really special to have been locked up like that, that I liked it, that it was good for me.”

You can read the Ronson piece here.

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