The Strength of Empathy

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“You have no idea! So … so don’t even try to understand!”

The storyteller in me cringes at these words.

Oh yeah, hi, it’s me, Ealaidh the bard sticking her paws into the blog again for a very important reason. I’ve been looking around at human exchanges and recognized a pattern, oh an age old troubling pattern, that makes my fur stand on end. Why? Because this only ends in division. I’m just saying, it’s time to talk.

By talk I mean truly talk, not shut each other out. There are people claiming that they are being misunderstood and using the most dead-end statements in existence. “You aren’t/don’t have ____ so you can’t possibly understand what it is to be ____. So, unless you only say ______ you are against me.”

Ok … so please tell me, how is a sympathetic individual supposed to respond to such a statement? Shall I crawl under a rock in shame? Shall I apologize profusely for someone else’s assertions before they get to know me which label me as committing a crime I haven’t committed? Well, the answer is a solid nope. And here is why. Because being different doesn’t default me to being wrong.

While I may not have walked in the accuser’s proverbial shoes, there is a skill that allows perspective.

Empathy.

That’s right. Empathy. A skill that everyone who has ever been enthralled with a book, or been moved by a character on the big screen is familiar with. Writers and storytellers employ this skill to extremes. After all, if every character in a story was a carbon copy of the author’s experiences it would a pretty boring tale.

Empathy allows the author to consider how someone in a different walk of a life experiences the world around them. By listening, reading, and processing the words of others an author can delve into the mind of someone with PTSD, explore a five-year old seeing the ocean for the first time, or even see through the eyes of a senior citizen dealing with the fear of being abandoned. We can use empathy to see the perspective of heroes and villains, rich or poor men, historical or futuristic. We can walk for a bit as another ethnicity or gender. It’s carried readers into the minds of dogs, onto the wings of dragons, on vast migrations with extinct dinosaurs. This isn’t a small feat–but the fact is most of humanity accomplishes this well when influenced to try it.

This is a powerful experience that enables growth. And good writers go beyond the stereotype. They dig into the thought process of that character, that life, and let it speak to them. This is true empathy. Extrapolating from personal life experience we can level with someone else’s situation. That can move a spirit to align–and it’s a helluva lot more powerful of a motivation than a shaming verbal assault.

But I am slan, I am not human. How can I possibly comprehend?

In ages past, within the slannic species, the god Cernunnos created a wide variety. Even within just the faol, or those who are canine based, there were wolves and foxes. Taking it smaller and just looking at the foxes, there were many different colors of markings and kinds. There were reds, greys, blacks, crosses, the arctic and fennec. Beautiful colors with personalities as varied as markings. Some lived blessed lives without a care, others struggled for every breath. But beneath the fur we all shared one thing in common: we were all fox.

Each one of us sang a different part in the chorus of life. All the parts together made up the symphony of life. A varied masterpiece that moves us all with the power of compassion.

Talk, sing with one another, build the harmony that will move the world. Don’t hold up a hand and silence a harmonizing voice just because they aren’t exactly like you. A kind invitation to those different from you see the world through your eyes will go miles further and foster growth than declaring they will never understand. Give them a chance, they may already understand more than you are aware. Some mean what they say when they speak out for true equality.

Humanity, you all different by some degree. And that is what unites you as a single race.

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The Troubling Division

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The floodgates have opened. Social media is drowned in a deluge of outrage, terror, fear, rage. Washed away in the torrent is the one thing the world needs: reason.

ForAll

In recent years equality has become a major topic. And it should be. There is no doubt that right now society is a mess. There is a disturbing current of incidents going on. Yes, it is fueled by problems poisoning the social structure. Let’s face facts, shit is happening to good people because of things they can’t (or shouldn’t have to) control. You know what I mean: ethnicity, religion, gender, age, socio-ecomic class, etc.

So, a spark gets ignited somewhere, people start to talk, memes get posted and then, oh God—the flame wars! “How can you support THEM?!” “Don’t say it that way!” “If you say that you are WRONG!” “Why are you sharing THAT meme?” “Kill all those (insert hot button topic here, you’ve seen this before).”

The sad part is the reading between the lines. To see good people arguing over simple words when in truth they are after the same end goal. At least I think that’s what we’re after … equality … right?

There is reason I pause and stumble there. The reason is this. I have witnessed people flat out called racists for offering support to the whole human race.

Yes. Please stop and process that for a moment. Let me repeat:

“You are a racist if you share a meme that supports uniting all of humanity.”

I hang my head. Is unity not the end goal? Or have I got it wrong? Often people who share solidarity are approached with statements concerning how it undercuts the movement and dismisses the problem ignoring the issues. We hear the burning house analogy.

Well, folks. Guess what, there is more than one ‘burning house’. The root of the problem is bigger than any one ethnicity. In fact it is far more reaching than ethnicity alone. Pardon me for acknowledging them all instead of focusing on one and one alone.

Now, I could list all the houses individually. But if I started that list would be immense. When I condense it and say that all lives matter it is because I yearn for society to progress toward the true goal where every human being is seen as just that: a fellow human being. We shouldn’t be breaking it down into groups for any reason. We are all members of … wait for it …

One. Human. Race.

Here’s an example of a meme that triggers the response. It says: “All cops aren’t bad, all African Americans aren’t thugs, all whites aren’t racists. If we come together and unite as one, we can be an unstoppable force.” What is the problem with sharing this? Which statement isn’t true? Are all cops bad? All African Americans thugs? All whites racists? Is uniting a bad thing? Seriously, how is this undermining moving toward equality?

Running agility with my dogs has taught me something about basic communication. In agility when you run focusing on the problem often you will accidentally send your dog on that mistake. However, when you approach the course with your goal in mind, i.e. the intended obstacle, you stand a better chance of success.

This is a life lesson that applies to the human animal as well. Let’s face it folks, we are not vegetables or minerals. We are animals too. We work better focusing on the positive which makes the end goal easier. But doing that does not mean we are ignoring the underlying problem. We are merely looking at the bigger picture, working toward the end goal. Equality. For everyone. Please don’t try to shame others into focusing on one group’s needs, and only theirs. Personally, I give a shit about the rights of all human beings regardless of who they are so long as they treat others with respect. I feel it’s terribly biased to be told only to post about one.

The one thing that these accusations does accomplish is pushing barbs into the sides of people who are actually supportive of progress. Rather than arguing semantics with a supporter, save the history lessons for those who need it, the ones who clearly segregate. If we want true equality we need to stop the divide and unite as

One. Human. Race.