The dilemma of empathy
We all seek empathy and understanding, right? Humans were born innate social creatures. Apparently. It only makes sense to assume...
We all seek empathy and understanding, right?
Humans were born innate social creatures. Apparently. It only makes sense to assume that evolution would equip us with the emotional capability to foster such behavior. In our today’s world, Empathy seems to be the buzzword: Empathy is an empowering tool in the workplace. Empathy can cure all discrimination and segregation. Empathy heals the world…
But what is it like to empathize with somebody?
Walking a mile in one’s shoes is easier said than done. You might be a ‘socially-accepted’ person. But in a room filled with ‘crazy’ people (or that’s how you would refer to them), you might be the ‘crazy’ one.
In every argument, I usually get the good old: ‘How could you NOT understand this? It is common sense.’ To which I usually reply: ‘Common to whom?’ It’s funny to me, that most of us tend to believe that what we know is a common, mainstream fact. That, other people should share the same knowledge and sentiments. Because it comes naturally to us, personally.
But the world we live in is so much more diverse and complex than we actually know. In a different context. With a different point of reference. From a different perspective. You won’t see eye to eye.
You see 6, I see 9.
Okay, I did not mean to make a silly innuendo out of that. What I’m coming at is (sorry), to really empathize with somebody, you’ve got to learn how to shift your perspectives.
The one fish amongst the flock of birds.
I had a love-hate relationship with going to school as a child. While I love learning new things and meeting new people, I’ve always felt like a tiny fish, forced-fed with theories of flight and aerodynamics. Some of my classmates were amazing nightingales and swallows. So I was there on the ground, eyeing up, flopping out of the water, gasping for air. (For a minute, let’s ignore the flying fish exists).
When people are put into boxes of definition, it’s so difficult to ignore the all-encompassing tesseract you’re in, to empathize with someone coming from a place of polar opposite rules. It was only until I graduated, did I find my beloved school (of fish).Yet even then, new rules would emerge and disrupt the newly found peace and unity.While I thought our reefs are becoming so polluted, other fish said it’s good now that we have plastic wraps protecting the corals.
It’s not easy being green.
So is it important to develop empathy? Maybe. But what would the wicked witch do? Is it better to fly away, and learn not to give a shit? Because while there are shoes you can try to squeeze your foot in, you can’t really change the color of your skin. (You CAN try pulling a Michael Jackson, but I wouldn’t really recommend that…)
When I heard this piece of lyrics from Into the Woods’ ‘Last Midnight’, it all made sense:
“You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad. You’re just nice. I’m not good, I’m not nice. I’m just right. I’m the witch. You’re the world.”
I sometimes see myself embraced (or rather, engulfed) by solipsism. Am I just a brain in a vat, hooked up to the wires and electrical currents that re-created the entire fabric of my existence out of recreation? Because outside of myself, I can never be sure if other minds, other people, really exists. What if all the conflicts, the fights, the challenges, are just pre-determined scenarios in my own video game? Maybe that would give me the courage to give a lesser f*ck about everyone else. (Yup, I don’t need your permission to censor a profanity.)
Empathetic = Hm, pathetic?
At the end of the day, what is empathy?
The ability to share an experience, a sentiment of another (affective empathy). The ability to process and understand the nooks and crannies of one’s feelings (cognitive empathy).
I do see the importance of empathy, don’t get me wrong. But when is empathy ‘too much’? If you can learn to relate with anyone and everyone, does that dampens your own authenticity and sense of self? If you’ve ever known a ‘Doctor Love’ in your life, they might be the abused empathy expert who’s constantly bombarded with other people’s relationship mishaps. Even if it sounds like a noble cause, nobody wants to become an emotional trash can.
On the B-side of the record, a psychopath would have great empathy skills, contrary to what you might be thinking. Great powers come with great responsibilities. Every great ‘empathists’ can completely annihilate you with their power of manipulation. Empathy is a great skill. But it can also become a weapon of mass destruction.
… The point is?
Oh, no, this is not one of those self-help articles. The questions are not rhetorical. I don’t know the answers. I just think it’s a worthy exercise for your mind (or for lack of a better word, mental gymnastics, as one of my fellow comics/buddy put it so beautifully)
Maybe the next time you face an argument, your first reaction won’t be an attempt to craft the perfect counter. Spend some time to listen, comprehend, and maybe pretend for a moment that you’re not the tallest name in this movie’s poster.
Let’s all try to strip down the barriers of what we define ourselves to be, and also deactivate the x-ray vision of judgment on others. It’s vulnerable and potentially damaging to try not to be a hypercritical A-hole. But I found that it can be rewarding once in a while. Black or White, Boomer or Gen X, Hetero or Non-Binary… Let’s role-play a bit and pretend they don’t even matter. If you can see yourself trying these things after reading this, I guess I’ve reached a certain point?
Trust me, I’m a rational Libra.
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