On Empathy

On Empathy

Empathy, Empathy, Empathy! All of this, all sides, all people. Empathy is the key and what we seem to be losing. I like to think I have great empathy for the disenfranchised but I fail spectacularly at demonstrating empathy for those whose political views run against my own and that is wrong too.

Where are we?

Trump, Biden, politics, COVID-19, race, sexualization of children, police reform, Black Lives Matter, equality, LGBTQ+, climate change, rainforests on fire, 2nd amendment, gun control, vigilantism, self-defense, and hundreds of other topics.

These are the topics that assault us on Facebook, YouTube, the news, print media, Reddit, left/right-wing rags, the radio, podcasts, and the entire ecosystem that we collectively call "the media."

Polarizing, divisive, combative; these are words we use to describe the current state of affairs in America. But why?!?! Has it always been this way and we just didn't know? Did something change? Why are we stuck here?

If you have watched "The Social Dilema" on Netflix, then one theme should have stood out to you: we all are presented and subscribe to a completely different set of facts! How can we possible behave as reasonable people when we cannot agree on what a fact is?

I have come to realize the at the core of this divisivness is a lack of empathy. It is easy to think of empathy as caring about the poor, the homeless, racial equality, and several other social justice themes. And it is true that these things do represent empathy.

Where we miss the mark though, is empathy for people with differing viewpoints. I šŸ¤ššŸ»will be the first to admit that I am guilty and a terrible offender of this. People with differing viewpoints are dumb, ignorant, bigotted, racist...

But I don't truly know that about these people; in fact I know nothing about them.

What does this all mean?

It means that even if I disagree with a viewpoint, I MUST be empathetic to how someone came to have that viewpoint, where they learned their facts, and what their world view is, based on their upbringing and history.

It is not enough to say Fox News is evil because MSNBC probably is too.

Instead, we need to empathize with everyone! Are they racsist? Yeah, they are, but why? Were they taught that by their parents? A teacher? Society at large? Got different "facts"?

Instead of being angry, seek to listen, seek to understand. Ask questions to understand better. Ask why?, where?, and how?.

No one has ever swayed another person's opinion with name calling.

What to do?

Attempt to demonstrate empathy in all facets of your life. At the store, gas station, restaraunt...anywhere.

Waiter got your order wrong?...empathy

  • Did you say your order wrong?
  • Was did the cook simply read it wrong?
  • Is it really going to impact your life?

Checker at the store didn't say hi enthusiastically enough for you?...empathy

  • Maybe they are having a bad day?
  • Maybe this is their 16th hour of working today?
  • Maybe the last customer did what you are about to do?

Customer service on the phone didn't solve your issue?...empathy

  • That rep doesn't control quality of the product
  • They didn't make the rules
  • They have to follow a script or get fired.

You can quickly see that in most situations, being angry at the person is not at all helpful. As Briana and I have learned in 11+ years of marriage:

It is us against the world, not us against each other

The same is true for all the topics listed at the top. The topic should not be the thing we fight over but rather how do we achieve the right answer.

See both sides of the conversation. As F. Scott Fitzgerald once said:

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.

We HAVE to get to a point where people are able to understand both sides of the argument. Have your opinion but do NOT assume that others can understand it. Seek to understand theirs though.

Understand that their facts are different, understand that their life has been different, understand that "right" does not win an argument and certainly just not achieve justice.

If you want more, here is a great TED Talk on the matter: