Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts on Empathy

     I don't like politics. I don't enjoy conflict or arguing of any kind, and frankly I don't have much political knowledge because I never tried too. Most of my understanding of how our government functions came from Schoolhouse Rock videos. Knowing these things, I guess you could say that I have a biased opinion about this, and you might be right, but I just have a hard time seeing how easy it is for so many people to react to tragedy with "and this is why I'm voting for candidate X". The fact that we are able to use the death of another human to endorse our own opinion makes me wonder if unlimited access to constant information is teaching us to be comfortable with horrible things, because they're becoming familiar.
     Even though I'm not a political person, I'm not innocent of dismissing tragic events too quickly. I do that a lot, because I tell myself that these things happen because there is evil in the world, and there's nothing I can do about it. Last week, I had a rude awakening as I was reading an article about something tragic that happened recently in this country. The thing that struck me about this particular tragedy was two words I saw in that article. Two words stopped me from dismissing this event as inevitable tragedy in this broken world, two words that stopped me from shrugging it off because there's nothing I can do about it. The name of one of one of the victims was followed by the words "age twenty."

That's how old I am.

With those words, a news story that I understood intellectually became a real thing that I felt tangibly. Right now, funerals are being held for people my age, some even younger. Parents and siblings are having to say goodbye to their son or daughter, their brother or sister.  Like mine, their lives were just getting started. Like me, they had plans for their future, plans they were looking forward too. They had friends and family they never got to say goodbye to, pets that won't understand why they are never going to come back home. 
     Those people who were at first glance just names in another sad news story to me were someone's best friend. They were someone's son or daughter, someone's brother or sister. This event that will fade into a distant memory for me will be a day that someone will never be able to forget, because it is the day they lost a person they loved. Suddenly, this isn't just another sad story. Suddenly this is personal, tragic and uncomfortable because instead of realizing all of the ways I am different from these people, I have discovered something I have in common with them.
     I know that I said these kinds of tragedies are inevitable in this world, but perhaps I should stop using that as my excuse to dismiss them so quickly. I'm no expert, but maybe my ability to immediately dismiss or even politicize the death of another human being is not a testament to my supposed strength, but instead a sign that I am becoming desensitized to cruelty because it feels familiar.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I shouldn't live in a constant state of sadness, maybe I shouldn't immediately suppress my sadness either. Maybe I should stop dismissing tragedies as just another news story that I'm not going to read because it will only make me sad. Sadness is uncomfortable, and sensitivity can be humiliating. But maybe I need to be uncomfortable and humiliated sometimes. Maybe I need to have empathy for total strangers, simply because a lack of empathy is the one of the very reasons tragedy had the chance to become so familiar in the first place.
     Everyone knows what loss feels like. It is the one thing that no one can escape completely, no matter how much money, power, or fame we have. So why is it that we can so easily see someone else's loss as just another opportunity to talk about "what's wrong with this country" or who we're going to vote for?  Have we forgotten the human behind the story? Have we forgotten how to empathize? Let's start remembering, so that no child ever has to grow up in a world where evil is accepted as normal.

No comments:

Post a Comment