The Luxury of Empathy

06/20/2017 05:28 pm ET

Em·pa·thy ˈempəTHē/ [n]: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

I get to care...

I get to care about other people...

I get to care about other people who are treated differently than me...

I get to care about other people who are treated differently than me and the fact that that's how empathy works is truly sickening.

I get to care whether or not it affects me if someone speaks poorly of my country. I get to care if the mistreatment of a four-legged animal affects me more than the mistreatment of a person more melanated than me. I get to care whether or not a person murdered by those who took an oath to serve and protect affects me.

Empathy is not inherent -- like most things in life. We are taught how to walk, read, use spoons, ride bikes, climb mountains, bake cakes, study, so why isn't empathy apart of the life curriculum? We're taught cursive (why?), we're taught how to convert °F to °C (Google), we're taught how to create an annotated bibliography (curriculum filler) and we're even taught how to play a recorder (find that in your local orchestra). We're taught so many things that we don't use in our actual daily lives, but for some reason growing up to become a well-rounded citizen isn't one of them.

I bet the only empathy teaching most of us ever get outside of the home is the poster of the Golden Rule that was dangling over our second grade teacher's desk right next to the class conduct book. 

http://gregorybknapp.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/goldenrule-e1443339400206.jpg

So, it was no surprise that when the news for Philando Castile broke last Friday, my spirit was in shambles. It was interesting to note that my melanated friends were in mourning while my paler friends celebrated Lorde Day. It was even more painful to learn of Charleena Lyles over the weekend, this time shot multiple times -- in her home -- by police -- in front of children -- that she called herself -- because she was scared that she was the victim of a burglary. She was holding a knife during the altercation/confrontation/meeting with the police and that justified the end of two lives because, oh yeah, she was pregnant. As gruesome and sickening and deplorable as this is, I'm depressed by the fact that my sadness is no longer escalating as I'm becoming more and more numb to these incidents that I refuse to believe but are quickly becoming a new normal. 

I've always had the poor assumption that learning empathy might be easier for some more than others because they've had to go through a trial or tribulation that required empathy. Maybe the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle caught up to you and for a few brief moments you realized you could be homeless at any second and so you sorta understood that every homeless person has a story and aren't homeless out of laziness or lack of willingness -- NO ONE chooses to be homeless. So what they might buy liquor with your random dollar and coins. If you didn't have a roof over your head and the only thing you owned were the clothes on your back wouldn't you want to numb the pain some kind of way?

Or maybe early on your significant other exhibits signs of anger issues and you cut it off before it gets too serious and you sorta understand that if love or children or other factors are involved it's not so easy to just pick up and leave someone who is threatening your life. So often we make split judgments about other people and their situations instead of just letting them exist and wanting to understand the cards life dealt them. Some people's decks are truly f'ed up. Some have decks of 2s and 5s and others have decks of straight Aces. Once we can accept that everyone's shrink wrapped box is only the same on the outside (ie, only the shrink wrap -- birth), the packaging (skin color), cards inside (socio-economic status) and dealer (life itself) can skew the game for you however it sees fit. The game for some people is already lost before the card box is even opened!

I've also had the poor assumption that at the minimum oppressed people can at least stick together for each other, but quickly understood that was a terrible assumption. It's Pride Month (yay!) and while exciting, I always see a headline or two about Philly's updated flag. Instead of trying to understand why the city did it, there has been such negative remarks on its decision from LGBTQ community members and allies.

http://sdgln.com/news/2017/06/14/philly-unveils-new-pride-flag-black-and-brown-stripes

This was something a city did to make some of its residents feel included. In no way was it a replacement for the flag at large. Instead of asking WHY the city felt the need to do this and addressing those issues, ie - people aren't outraged by the flagrant racism and marginalization in the gay community, - they just cared that the rainbow got two extra colors added. I've never understood racism. I've especially never understood racist women, racist minorities, racist LGBT people or any other suppressed person that I guess only care about equality as it pertains for themselves and not everyone else.

The fact that we can choose to have empathy like we used to be able to choose to have healthcare is ridiculous. Some things should be mandated. Grateful healthcare is one of those things. Hopefully, having a moral compass and compassion can be a requirement soon too. 

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