How do you explain to someone that they should care about other people’s problems even if those problems don’t affect them? Why is there such a reluctance to acknowledge that other people struggle with things we don’t? What this country needs now more than anything is for people to learn how to empathize with others. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person, to put yourself in their shoes and try to relate to where they’re coming from even if you’ve never been in their situation. Empathy is often a learned skill, and those who tend to lack it also like diversity in their lives. My friends and family members who are the least empathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement have little to no interaction with people of color. Those I know who couldn’t care less about the rights of the LGBTQ community have rarely if ever spoken directly with someone whose rights are compromised on account of their sexual orientation. A person born on American soil who does not face the direct threat of danger might not understand why someone would risk their life to cross the border illegally. But if we make an effort to understand where other people are coming from even if their problems do not affect us directly, we can work toward a more civilized, egalitarian society.
Empathy is a characteristic of an emotionally intelligent person. A lack of empathy indicates that someone has not matured to a point where they can adequately care about others. People are so quick to be on the defensive when someone else expresses a problem that doesn’t affect them. I’ve heard many ignorant statements illustrating this inability to relate like “all lives matter” or “not all men.” I’ve seen people scoff at and demonize peaceful protesters. Some people struggle with empathy because they have their own difficulties they’re dealing with. Many people who deny the existence of white privilege, for instance, do so because they misunderstand the concept. They seem to believe that “white privilege” means that white people don’t have problems, which simply isn’t true. We’re all struggling. But some of us are struggling for different reasons and pigment is just one example. How do we explain to a person that just because a problem doesn’t affect them directly does not mean that the problem doesn’t exist? And furthermore, how do you explain that acknowledging problems do exist is not enough, but that they should also care?
Is it possible to teach people how to be more empathetic? How do you tell someone that they should focus their attention on the welfare and needs of others? How can we encourage people to value others while diminishing their own judgments and preconceived ideas about a situation? Alas, I’m not sure how to answer these questions. There’s so much fear and hate to combat before we can live in a society that values people over property. In the meantime, all I can do is try to lead by example by regularly asking myself the following questions:
Am I challenging my own prejudices and preconceived ideas?
Have I branched out of my small social circle recently?
Do I listen more than I talk?
Am I working to be a part of the social change instead of resisting it?
Remember, we are products of our surroundings. Everything about us is determined by our environment. The language you speak, the religion you follow, your nationality, your values, everything was determined by your surroundings. Think of how different you would be had you grown up in a different city, country, or continent. America is rife with problems right now, and the sooner people start listening more than talking and working together to resolve these problems, the sooner we can move forward.