At times, the world scares me. As I grow older I am yet to comprehend the brutality, hate, corruption and malice that humans often excel in administering. We are building walls instead of breaking them down, seeing differences instead of similarities. So today I want to write about empathy.
Whilst sympathy is defined as “feeling pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune”, empathy is so much more, defined as “the ability to understand and share feelings of another”[i]. Empathy, therefore, cannot be defined as an individual emotion but rather an action, something we should apply to our everyday lives.
As the far right realises its dream, I am realising my nightmare. We need empathy now more than ever. Turn your eye to every corner of the globe and you will see people trying to tear down our moral code, mocking the disabled, exploiting the vulnerable and killing the innocent. It is a world severed from empathy that administers systematic genocide, a world that watches as cities fall under the weight of murderous bombs and a world that victimises rather than takes responsibility.
We are living in a world at its most divided, building fences around our social circles and beliefs, blocking the metaphorical Venn diagram of debate and acceptance from letting our paths cross. In an environment increasingly dictated by social media, our empathy is threatened by the lack of political diversity in the content we see. Instead of encouraging healthy debate, understanding and education, our like-minded virtual groups serve to reinforce and therefore radicalise our opinions, making us less open to empathise with others.
Discounting the few nutters of the Trump/Hitler variety, the bottom line is we fail to try to understand other people’s opinions; as Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply”. In the coming months Americans, Brits and those facing major political change will have to learn to understand one another’s positions and most importantly the reasons behind them in order to progress forward. Stereotyping strengthens bitter divisions whereas education is built on empathy: we have to recognise our individual experiences to develop a shared one.
When we lose our empathy, be it towards international crises or the migrant who lives down the road, we lose our humanity.
Food for Thought
- Hate Crimes in the UK during the 2015/16 period totalled 62,518.“The number of racially or religiously aggravated offences recorded by the police in July 2016 (post EU referendum) was 41% higher than in July 2015”.[ii]
- It is estimated that there are over 2.5 million IDPs [iii](Internally Displaced Persons) in Yemen due to civil war, over a 10th of the country’s population.[iv]
- Whilst there has been widespread media attention on the Women’s March and reproductive rights in America being threatened, in Northern Ireland, part of the UK, it is illegal to have an abortion unless the mother’s life is at risk or “there is a permanent or serious risk to her mental or physical health…fatal foetal abnormalities, rape and incest are not circumstances in which abortions can be performed legally.”[v]
- The Global Slavery Index states there are 45.8 million[vi] people in modern slavery today. That’s 10 million more than the population of Canada[vii].
- There were 10.9 deaths attributed to suicide per 100,000 of the UK population in 2015[viii].
- The UN Special Envoy for Syria has estimated that 400,000[ix] people have been killed in the conflict so far.
Have some empathy, people.
Featured Photo is of the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin, created by Peter Eisenman and Buro Happold. An estimated 6 million Jews were killed during the systematic genocide carried out by the Nazis.
[i] Oxford Dictionary