Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.”
Empathy. The ability to feel. The ability to understand. The ability to care.
We are taught compassion from a young age. We are told to treat others as we want to be treated and to love our neighbors as ourselves. At first, it sounds simple and straight-forward, but once we are thrown into the survival arena of the real world, it becomes an “every man for himself” sort of fight. We forget our natural tendencies to love and to be loved and instead act in constant competition with one another.
Empathy is perhaps one of the most primal human traits we possess, but also one of the most misunderstood. Contrary to what some may say, we all have the ability to empathize. Think about the last movie you cried during. You weren’t crying because it affected your life in any way, you cried because of the events the characters had to experience, and you felt bad for them. You empathized. This is a pretty basic example, but you get the point: we have all capable of expressing empathy.
As stated in the definition, one of the keys to empathy is understanding. It is the ability to understand what someone else is going through and to understand how that experience is making him or her feel. One of our biggest communication flaws as a society is our lack of understanding for one another and our lack of the desire to understand.
We tend to listen to other people’s opinions with the motive of crafting the perfect counterargument or response, rather than listening to genuinely understand their side of things and what they are going through. At a time where political affiliation, sexual identity, and religion are being treated as if they are the defining qualities of an individual, it is more important than ever to put yourself in other people’s shoes and see things from their angles, rather than judging them based on who they are or what they represent.
Most importantly, we need to keep in mind the simple fact that unites us all: we are all human.
Despite our world population of over 7.6 billion people, when it all comes down to it, we are more alike than one may think. We all share the same basic emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. Furthermore, we share similar life-changing experiences, such as divorce, abortion, mental illness, emigration, etc.
In order to obtain a society more centered around the idea of empathy, we first must strengthen one crucial thing: our communication. This is easier said than done, as we live in a time where we aren’t exactly applauded for sharing our opinions, but if we could communicate more openly and honestly about our personal obstacles, experiences, and feelings, we would find that there are many people who share similar stories as ours. Additionally, with more open and honest communication, we will gain insight about complex political topics, and understand each person’s needs and views more clearly.
It is time for us to come together as the people of the world, and work towards returning to our natural roots of empathy and compassion. With a more empathetic society, we will be able to help each other overcome hardships, and we will gain a better understanding for those different from us. This is the key to peace and it is time to decide what you are really fighting for.