A Facebook thread from last week I observed (paraphrased very slightly because I didn’t copy and paste it):
What Mommys 1-4 saw – another mother who clearly doesn’t understand the severity of food allergies. So what if her kid is hungry? Maybe she should teach him not to be so picky. What I saw – a mother who probably does understand that food allergies are serious but is also concerned for her own child. I wouldn’t assume from this conversation that she thinks certain foods shouldn’t be banned but that she is struggling to also do what’s best for her child. As much as these other mother’s think she doesn’t get it (it being food allergies) they clearly don’t get what she is dealing with. They maybe don’t understand how food aversions are also real and also serious. I bet Mommy5 understands both sides. I don’t get the sense that she doesn’t care about anybody but her own kid.
Re-enacted Facebook thread number two:
That was my actual comment in this Facebook discussion. I had been in Alice’s shoes. I still have a small anxiety attack if I even hear a certain paediatrician’s name. No I don’t think every paediatrician is incompetent but that experience effected me deeply and permanently. What Alice needed was for someone to show her a little compassion. A little empathy.
A little empathy. Say it with me now. EMPATHY. Put yourself in their shoes. It’s a concept my not quite six year old grasps so I don’t see why grown ass adults can’t seem to get it. We spend so much time looking for the bad in people. Ready to pounce and destroy people for doing or saying things that are contrary to our own personal values or beliefs. And because so many of our discussions now happen in a virtual reality we tend to say things we might not if we were forced to say it to someone’s face. It’s easy to sit at your keyboard and type off all kinds of nastiness. And then just move on. You don’t have to actually acknowledge the hurt you might have caused because you don’t have to see it. Opinions are easy to give. They take no knowledge, no skill, no effort. Empathy does take effort. You have to get outside of your own self and see things from another angle. Although admittedly in some cases it’s easier than others. In the case of Alice (above) it was easy for me to feel and show empathy for her and her situation because I had experienced something very similiar. That’s not always the case. Many times we haven’t walked that mile in another person’s shoes. Those are the times we have to immediately put our opinions on the back burner (not let them go but temporarily set the aside) and actually try to FEEL first. To imagine ourselves in that situation. But there’s more. We not only have to imagine what that situation would feel like but imagine it from someone’s else point of view. Because chances are we haven’t lived the same life as they have. For some people empathy seems to come easier than for others. But unless you are a socio-path each and every one of us are capable of learning how do it. We just have to want it.
I want to challenge you. Yes you. Work on your empathy. Next time you see a blog post, an article or a Facebook status that gets your blood boiling just stop. Whatever you do DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS. At least not yet. Because reading other people’s rants tend to skew your own thoughts, your own common sense, your own values even. Reread the post. As someone else. As the writer. Now challenge your own beliefs. Yes really. Take the other side for a moment and argue your own opinion. You might be surprised with the results. Chances are you won’t do a complete 180 but you just might find that the “other side” has some points worth considering. In the end maybe you will hold fast to your initial opinion on the matter. There’s nothing wrong with that. But here’s the thing. If you actually did the work and tried to put yourself in the other person’s shoes they are much more liable to be receptive to what you have to say even if you don’t agree with them.
Empathy can lead to big things. It can ignite us to take on a cause, to make a big difference in people’s lives. Or it can lead to smaller, but still important things, like making someone not feel quite so lonely or insignificant. But even those little things add up and if we practice and show empathy on a regular basis we can change lives. You may never know that your act of empathy made a difference. But empathy isn’t really about you so that’s ok too.