Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Care to Spread Some Empathy?

Em・pa・thy (n) -
  1. the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it.
  2. the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this.
Empathy is colloquially thought of as the ability to see from another's point of view, to understand what it is they are feeling. Empathy is the great equalizer of mankind. Or, at least, it should be. 

Empathy, however, is something I think we are on the verge of losing as a whole. 

How often do we see the leaders of this country's government, of our various religions, of our various group of choice point a finger or cast judgment on another group? It is a severe lack of empathy that causes this judgment, and it has been tearing not just our overall country, but our communities and social groups apart. 

Recently, I had the extreme displeasure to hear someone deride one group of people for their perceived reaction to a tragedy. The reaction of group B was compared with person A's reaction, which was, of course, a better reaction. When I hear people attempting to weigh out tragedy and one's reaction to tragedy, further deciding whether it is acceptable to react in one way or another due to said tragedy, I am disgusted. That's like asking, "What's worse: racism or homophobia?"

Is it better to be robbed and beaten or be bullied at school your entire life?

Is it better to avenge an injustice or turn the other cheek?

It is not our place to compare suffering and decide which is worse, because pain is pain, whether you believe it to be or not. 

When I was very young, my paternal great-grandfather gave me a contraption that held marbles. It was basically a jar attached to a wooden gumball machine-type base. You pulled the little handle out, and your marbles came out one by one. After he died, that jar was placed on my bookshelf in a place of honor. One night my parents had hired a babysitter to watch me - remember I was maybe 8 or 9 - and she knocked over the jar by accident. I was inconsolable. I cried for hours, the kind of crying that comes from a deep, guttural place, turning your face purple and pulsing out the veins on your temples. 

Looking back, I'm not sure why I had gotten so terribly upset. I didn't know the man very well, except for a few very nice things he'd done for me that I still remember. But something about the way in which the babysitter just could not understand why I was upset and why she needed to understand she had done something wrong, which she didn't. She thought she'd broken a glass jar that held marbles, and that it would all be ok if she could clean it up and stick the marbles in another container. 

It's never about the marbles, though, is it?

There was an emotion there that had been tied up in the giving of the gift, and of the loss of a loved one, and of wanting to keep that object whole... 

If two houses are destroyed, one by fire and the other by flood, one loss is no greater than the other. The owner of the burned house cannot look at the owner of the flooded house and say, "You're complaining too much. At least your house is still standing. Mine has burned to the ground." There is no comparison in tragedy. 

I'm not saying one should not attempt to move on with their lives, to heal and to better. But, the healing and the betterment cannot be on your scale or timeframe, especially if you have nothing to do with the situation. Have you never had someone close to you murdered? Well, can you relate by keying in on a time you have felt a profound sense of loss? You may not have experienced the inability to find a suitable job for months or years, but you have probably had your own bouts of bad luck. 

Some of the most powerful magic you can do is to let someone else know that they are not alone. That what they are feeling is not wrong, and that you will support them. Spread some empathy around, and next time, dear Rioter, that someone is complaining a little too loudly for you about their own tragedy, try and find a human connection with them.

In case you're wondering, I never did replace the broken glass jar.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

3 comments:

  1. So important. The world is becoming a very harsh place. We're not respecting each other's religions, experiences, stories. I doubt if we ever did, but maybe it's time to start. A colleague yesterday was telling me about a philosopher who believes in an ethic of diversity - that we will only ever have a chance of creating a better world if we actively celebrate difference. I like that, and I think it works even more for respecting difference in tragedy than it does about celebrating diversity in the good things.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I loved this post because of several points you made but this one was most important: it's not about one-upmanship. It's not the 'me,me,me' opera. I hate it when someone has to trump someonelse's misery with a miserable story of their own woe. Maybe they're just trying to relate, but it comes off feeling like your pain is being invalidated. Saying you understand is so much more valuable than comparing events. Thank You!

    ReplyDelete
  3. This post is lovely. It's a great reminder to remember others and think outside yourself. It's so easy, especially when you're drowning under work or problems, to forget that people go through tough luck and experiences as well and that often times we can't tell how those events affect them.

    Also the tying empathy into religion, politics, or any other group really is great. Many politicians and religious leaders often try to paint people of other beleifs as the enemies who come in the night and do horrible things, when most of the time it's a complete fallacy. (Sadly it's in almost all beleif systems, including Paganism)
    Anyway, Thanks for the lovely post.

    ReplyDelete