Let's first define our terms: Bloom provides a useful distinction: "Empathy-in the sense of feeling what we believe other people feel- can be meaningfully distinguished from caring about other people and loving them, often called compassion." Bloom avers that when we empathize, it is often "natural" to empathize with those closest to us, which often results in a blind spot in our decision making. He argues that empathy functions like "spotlights," which illumine certain people, and events closest to us. The spotlights, therefore, as he suggests, are often "tribal" in nature (our friends, our kids, my closest colleagues, my cause, etc.), narrowing one's vision and estimation of understanding. When this happens, this beautiful quality-empathy- can be less helpful, and not particularly wise or just.
Bloom provides several keen insights in this regard: parents, behavioral/health science professionals, for example who would do a disservice if their empathic response to a difficult situation is such that the parent, therapist, friend had no emotional boundary, resulting in the empathic person being stifled, overwhelmed, angry, fearful, etc., taking on the emotions of the person whom they are there to support. Rather than being a space of comfort, modeling equanimity, and leadership, both the person empathizing and the receiver of empathy can experience a deeper psychological and/or physical malaise. Consider Bloom's wisdom here: "A parent who channels too closely the feelings of his or her child will be overly protective. Good parenting involves coping with the short-term suffering of your child, if that's what you need to do to improve his or her life in the long run." In addition to parenting, we can apply a need for distance and objectivity to several domains of life: Home, work, social, economic, physical.
In my understanding, the ability to extend "rational compassion" involves a level of disciplining the mind and heart. It must be an ongoing practice. For example, a parent must be aware of their natural inclination to side with their child, even if, for example, a teacher has objectively noted an area of behavioral challenge. People in leadership positions must be mindful of subordinates-especially in areas of mediation between them or within- and understand if they have objectively evaluated a situation, or is their past history, friendship, or other factors with one subordinate in the "spotlight."
I use heart and mind here because emotions are powerful, interactional, biological, and also influenced by the cognitive. I define the heart broadly as those experiences that pull at us; they are emotive, interior and embodied. Cognitively and internally, we can understand we have less internal movement (empathy) for those less immediate to us: This can include on macro levels people in distant lands that may need our financial support or grassroots effort to correct an injustice that may not impact us directly, as Bloom himself notes. It can also include decisions we make or observations we have within our homes, schools, organizations in which a broader (non-spotlighted) view is helpful. The following sorts of questions in the examples provided may broaden our view: If there was a video recording of our little Johnny in the classroom, for example, would we still defend Johnny or lead him to his best self by noting where he has room for growth? If there was a video of exchanges between family members, friends, coworkers, would we provide objective guidance, leadership, and friendship by noting the less helpful observations the one closest to us made? Or, would we fail to see, minimize, distort and/or not explore it, thereby not only miss an opportunity for growth, but also disregard a compassionate response to others involved in the difficult interaction?
If we return to this idea of rational compassion as "caring about other people and loving them," we will find that care and love cannot be diminished by extending it outward (beyond the spotlight). It's also caring and loving to be a friend/parent/leader who can provide honest feedback/suggestions-in a gentle way, of course- and not enable behaviors that do nor reflect our best selves.
Now, empathy is also super cool, beautiful and helpful in many ways!, Bloom also notes that empathy can enrich our lives in our intimate relationships in certain contexts. He gives examples of feeling the enthusiasm a child/friend/coworker, etc. may have and expressing that enthusiasm with them. He notes in romantic partnerships, empathy in our physical expressions with our partner can also heighten our sensory experiences of bonding and intimacy. It seems to me that when there is a positive emotion with someone, stepping into the feeling (joy, gratitude, enthusiasm, love) are all desirable states that need no prompting; they flow from the heart, and are received by the other in the same spirit.
Empathy and rational compassion have their places in our lives. Utilizing our mind (rational faculties) and heart (compassion/emotional faculties) in ways that support, uplift, and affirm ourselves, and others-beyond the spotlight is a fine way to move through life.