When you turn 20 and begin college, or a new phase of your life, your eyes become focused on one thing: you. You, yourself, and how you’re going to relate to the world around you. Suddenly, you become a sponge. You’re trying to soak up all the information, ideas, and point of views you can, trying to understand it all and form your own ideas. It’s time to fight for yourself, and try and create a life for yourself whilst trying to fight back every obstacle that the universe throws at you.
I’ve seen many articles throughout the years that criticize the lack of empathy in the millennial generation. Older generations tend to be extremely critical, calling us the “me” generation. The generation that has their heads in their phones and have forgotten how to talk to real faces and hear real ideas. However, I think we have the potential to use our progressive attitude and modern advancements to still channel empathy into our society and learn how to understand people better, instead of shutting them out.
Empathy has always been a crucial value to me when meeting and understanding people throughout my life. However, empathy has slowly become a forgotten value in many aspects of our society, but not in the way you would think. People still think it’s important, but I think we are losing grasp of what it actually means to understand other people. I must admit, it partly has to do with our influx of social media and how it has forced us to have very shorthand responses to things. Thus we sometimes tend to just view every experience on the surface; snap a picture, post it on facebook, get a comment, reply, done. And that’s the extent of it. Also, I feel like our generation is a very defensive group of feisty, outspoken people. Which is great, however I think our generation has become so used to being outspoken and argumentative that we at times forget to stop and listen, to really listen. Modern age is manifesting itself in the way we look at people. It’s up to us to evolve our attitudes of our generation and fulfill the potential of empathizing with the world around us.
Here’s what it comes down to, in my mind at least. If you’re not depressed, you have no possible clue on how it feels like to be depressed. You don’t understand the dread that sinks into someone and the loss of hope that they feel every day. You just can’t understand it. Not fully.
If you don’t live in extreme poverty, there’s no way that you could really understand a person who does. In fact, even if you are living in poverty or are depressed as well, it’s still not fair to judge another person based on your assumptions because they’re still another person, in another body, living a completely different life than yours. It’s not fair for you to make an assumption just because you have one thing in common with a person. That doesn’t immediately put you in that person’s shoes, and certainly not their state of mind. So how could you possibly have a say in how they should be treated? Or how they should be reacting to it? Is it really our place to say that they’re overreacting, just because in your mind sexual assault is one thing and in their mind it’s something completely different?
Overall, it’s just important to sometimes take a step back and see how your experiences differ from the people around you. We all see through a different lens, depending on the way our lives have been shaped. It’s true, that a lot of times people are too quick to judge, but it’s the way they judge that’s the real problem. It’s of course easy for us in society to divide people up in different groups and have our judgements based on things that make us different or similar. Obviously, the harder option is actually trying to understand the person on a deeper level. And sometimes we need to make quick judgements and create simple definitions, without worrying what the person is actually thinking because we live in a world where everything is largely surrounded by self-interest. And that’s okay, until our assumptions start re-defining who people are and what their experiences have been, without their permission.
There are many steps we can take in beginning to fix our empathy. The first, seems almost painfully too obvious but cannot be stressed enough: Listen. However, I’d like to add “shut up” to that step as well. Shut up and listen. Instead, try asking more questions. Even about the little things, even the details–especially the details. Empathizing with the little things doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but ultimately they can be the things that really allow you to see through the lense of another person.
The best way to fix the world, is to understand every single person’s problems in a clear way, and then go through life like that. But that’s not the case, and that will never be the case… We are craving to understand, but we don’t allow ourselves to consider that maybe we can’t understand everything. We are a generation of notifiers and tweeters, but we need to go back to the basics: listening and learning. Asking and reflecting. And ultimately, think about the way things affect other people in specific, deeper ways. We shouldn’t rush when we meet new people. We should fight the urge to right away put them in a designated box and stack them with all the other boxes that we are familiar with.True empathy can’t just simply mean identifying with someone and assuming you know what they’re going through. Far too often, we take the easy way out and see people as we want to see them, instead of really taking a moment to be in their shoes, or better yet, simply accept that there’s no way we can really feel what they’re feeling. We can’t fool ourselves by trying to take a couple steps in other people’s shoes, but not walking the whole way.
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