My generation, that is the 80s, 90s and millennial kids are plagued with a very unique problem: Our humanity has been turned off.
From a very young age, we’ve been bombarded with stimuli that have completely switched off our emotions. Slasher horror, reality television, video games and porn have exposed us to a brilliant virtual world, but at a terrible cost; a kid of the new age needs to check his emotions at the doorstep before stepping into this sadomasochistic world. Terrorism, war, rape, torture, mutilation, abuse, bullying, discrimination, religious extremism, sexism, unreal relationships and an obsession with sex and violence has completely distorted our perception of the world.
We’ve grown up exposed to the ugliness of the world, but ironically, we’re totally disconnected. We’ve watched it all from inside a mammoth glass-and-steel enclosure, like the inhabitants of some terribly dystopian world, unfeeling and unsympathetic. In a sense, online reality has shielded us from having to face the truly grotesque in real life and taught us to value the truly superficial. With no sense of what is right, what is real and what is honest we live entirely in our own bubble and that, has become our collective conscious state: Apathy.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it
Apathy is the lack of empathy, an inability to understand another person’s pain. In our indifference we have grown less human and we no longer have the tools to solve the problems of the world. You only have to tune into the news every once in a while to know that there are too many problems out there. But how do we begin to make a change?
That’s where empathy comes in.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
What is empathy? It is the ability to put ourselves in another person’s place and experience their joys and sorrows for our own. It is the trick to dealing with overwhelmingly stressful situations and managing highly complex emotions such as anger, despair and disappointment. It is the skill that motivates us to get out of our own skin and deal with the world in a compassionate and wise way. It’s what makes us human.
How do we become empathetic? Empathy can be cultivated as a habit. It can be a conscious decision and it can also become a fixed thought among various floating thoughts. Empathy takes practice and patience. What are some of the ways that we can learn empathy?
Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?
- Listen: Talk less and listen more. When you talk to somebody, focus your full attention on that person, their facial cues, the tone of their voice, their gestures and body language and the look in their eyes. Listen to what they tell you and engage in constructive and meaningful conversation. In any crowd, if you can have a one-on-one with even one person, you can learn many things about emotions.
- Put yourself in their shoes: When you hear of something good or bad happening to someone, immediately put yourself in their shoes. What must have they felt? Were they sad? Happy? How would you cope in a situation such as theirs? What would make you feel better?
- Adopt a cause: You can make a difference, believe that. You can be a teacher for slum children, an animal rescue volunteer, an outspoken advocate for LGBT rights, a member of a relief team in a conflict zone, one of those people on-call for a suicide helpline, a women’s rights activist or even just someone who leaves water in bowls for dogs and birds to drink when it’s too hot. It’s enough that you’re doing one thing, and one thing only.
- Instead of practicing random acts of kindness, try not to be cruel: Not even a hundred acts of charity can equalize one act of cruelty. Do not allow yourself to be cruel, not in thoughts, words or actions. No matter how bad your day has been, nothing gives you the right to be a total dick to someone.
- Communicate empathy: This isn’t just about politeness, you need to ooze empathy to feel empathy. Be flexible about your point of view, set aside prejudices, hold back the preconceived notions and always approach a conversation, an argument or a full-blown fight with total openness. Try the middle-ground approach and always look for ways to reconcile opposing views. In the end, keeping your peace is a lot more important than keeping your pride.
All you who sleep tonight
Far from the ones you love,
No hand to left or right
And emptiness above –
Know that you aren’t alone
The whole world shares your tears,
Some for two nights or one,
And some for all their years.