The It word of the century these days has got to be the E word. Everyone and every article about self-improvement is telling you about havi...

Never talk to me about: Empathy

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The It word of the century these days has got to be the E word. Everyone and every article about self-improvement is telling you about having more empathy.

"Have more empathy for others"
"Show empathy"
"You need to have empathy"

Let me just first say that the word 'empathy' cannot be used so loosely. There are various definitions everywhere and not all of them are right. And you know what? The fact that 'empathy' has to be emphasised so damn much just shows how disgusting society is for the fact that empathy has to be encouraged.

The fact that empathy has to be encouraged means that > there is a lack of empathy in our society and a lack of it means that > our society does not feel because empathy is linked to emotion > and to not have the ability to express emotion means that people cannot feel from within.

And when you can't feel from within, people learn to "have" it by showing it.

That to me, is just wrong. A person cannot SHOW empathy, you must feel it. And truly feel for it. And for others.

To tell everyone to show empathy is just... disgusting. I cannot find another word to describe how I feel about this. It has to come naturally, not forced. Not something that books can teach. Not something that can be taught one day and be attained the next. No.


Another reason why I feel so strongly against people telling me about empathy, so much so that I have to write a post is because...

I know a group of people that consists of spirited individuals who are already OVERWHELMED with empathy. And if you ever tell these people to have more empathy than they already do, I tell you....... These people will crash and burrrnnnnnnn.

This group of people, they not only sympathise (and that's what most people wrongly replace empathy with), they FEEL and understand another's plight so much so that they have an overwhelming need to do something. They feel the weight and burden of society's problems that they take it upon themselves to solve them.

And when they can't, that's when they exhaust themselves. And may eventually break down.

To me, that's what empathy is like when it's exercised to the fullest. They feel it all the time and they are bugged by problems. It is not Oxford definition but in my books and with my experiences, this is what I believe having empathy is like and the kind of problems that can come with having empathy.

It is not that easy to just say that you have empathy. Let me repeat, it is not. that. easy. It comes with real, actual, problems that people suffer from. It is not something to cheer or show off about. No. It is a real challenge for those who embody empathy. And some don't even know they're suffering from it.

Then you may ask, do such people exist? My Lord let me tell you, yes they do. I'm not gonna name you Mother Theresa or Gandhi. Just look around you, these people could be the ones closest to you. Who's the one listening to you when you've got problems? Truly listening to you? As for myself, people whom I think embody the true spirit of empathy are some of my closest friends.

I have one person in mind who is filled with empathy and she's my good friend Sianpei. Now, she is definitely someone who has empathy. She can feel another person's emotion, so much so, that she takes it upon herself. She told me once about an incident that happened to a person she knew. I can't fully disclose what happened. Let's just say that the person passed on in difficult circumstances. Even though she wasn't that close to the person, she felt and was overwhelmed by emotion for that person because she could feel how that person was feeling at that point of time of the person's passing. And she felt helpless. And it plagued her for months. When she finally told me about it, she broke down. Could she be oversensitive since it's not happening to her directly? No, I don't think so. This is what empathy is. And it's tough because people actually suffer from having it.


And I can say... not all, but most of these people come from my Communications school. They can also be people who advocate for social causes, who get out there and try to make a difference because why? They feel these problems. They don't just know what's happening in the world, they feel the plight of the individuals suffering from the problems.

Which is why sometimes my friends in comms school have to learn to desensitise themselves and take themselves out of their profiles' stories. They cannot be too emotionally invested in a person's story because they have a job to do. To tell those stories. So sometimes I see friends getting overwhelmed and lecturers in school having to actually teach them to remove themselves from what's happening.

So yes, some have to be taught to be less empathetic. Isn't that crazy? In a world where empathy is forced down people throats and are told to simply 'get' it for the sake of it. Some already have too much of it.


One last misconceived notion about empathy: And that is to think that you know what others are thinking.

Once, a man told me he has empathy because he loves to buy gifts for others since it helps him understand what they love. And putting himself in their shoes allows him to exercise empathy. Good job. That's nice. For a start. But that ain't enough. Sadly, he preached to me as if he knew everything about empathy. Brother, I have to disappoint you because buying gifts is an act of simply being a thoughtful friend. You're constructing an imagined world of what you think the person would like. Imagining them unwrapping that gift and whoopdeedoo, you got that gift right. Yay you. Confetti. And that's not knowing their experience. You're controlling that experience of what you think it would be, could be, maybe even should be for the other person.

At least to me, to exercise empathy is to listen, without judgment, without assumptions, without any preconceived notion of what you think they are experiencing.

Those who exercise empathy don't think that they know what others are thinking. They find out what they are thinking. And those who respect people's stories have my utmost respect.


Before I end, and before I have everyone think that we shouldn't have empathy, no, empathy is what makes the world go round. We are all different and have different experiences, so having empathy allows us to experience a world that is nothing like ours. That is so important.

So don't stop learning to be empathetic.

What I'm trying to put across is that I just hope people know that it can't be learned overnight and it can't be forced. It has to be a habit, an actively-engaging-sorta thing. With your heart and soul. And I just think that there are so much assumptions of what empathy is that I feel the need to address this.

Empathy cannot be trivialised.

It isn't like IQ where you can just have it. Don't take all those advice at point-blank that you should have it and boom, you just have it coz you read it somewhere on the internet.

It's a learned thing. Through people, through experiences, through life really. It is something that even I am constantly learning.

I think it is important to have this emphasised in our generation because we're a highly educated generation. Sometimes because of our degrees and achievements, what we think we know from our various experiences, we get on our high horses and tell, teach and judge instead of first holding those horses and actually processing what's going on in another person's life.

I tend to do that sometimes and if I continue doing that, I'm just gonna be disappointed with every person I meet coz I assume I know.

I say, it starts with listening. And yes, active listening. Starting with family. And it's not easy because we grew up with this bunch of people thinking we know all about them already. Truth is, we don't. And every time I listen to their stories, I learn more about each individual in my tiny unit - brother, mother and father.

Always surprised by what they tell me and I am always left with lessons to ponder.

So before we can say we know everything about someone, think again. Coz more often than not, we don't. But we can always try. And we need to try to listen harder, with a fuller heart.

After that then maybe, just maybe, you can come to me someday and have a cuppa. I will be more than willing to listen to you talk about: Empathy.


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