Empathy: Trading places.

As the competitive nature of society increased so did its callousness towards the pain of others, the competition that society loves to promote had gradually drained its soul of empathy. We’re living in a society where the pain and failures of some are being used to fuel the success of others; some businesses are feeding off the pain and failures of the uneducated and low skills workers in society. And the survivability of these businesses depends on society to produce more of these uneducated and low skills workers so that they can stay in business and make a profit from their plights. This pain for-profit mentality is not only limited to businesses, some have become masters of using the pain of others in society in order to gain political power and office; they have learned to use these pain and plights as political capital to take them to the national capitol. We cannot heal the pain in society by profiting from them because anything we profit from, we need to produce more of; the only way to heal the pain is to get closer to it and to know it. Unfortunately, the last thing that most of us want is to get too close to the pain of others, but we cannot truly know people until we know their pain. We have become so engrossed in the competitiveness in society that we are only able to see the gain it produced but not the pain it has left behind. And whenever we hear some political and business leaders give elegant speeches addressing the plights and pain in society, we should not mistake these speeches with empathy. Empathy is not a lip service competition, but rather an innate human quality that gives us the capacity to feel the pain that does not belong to us. Walt Whiteman described it this way ” I do not ask the wounded person how he feels … I myself become the wounded person.”

We are now witnessing the golden rule in reverse, where people are doing unto others that which they won’t do unto themselves. It has become much easier to practice the golden rule in reverse in a competition-driven society where the winners take all because it was designed to alienate us from the pain of the “losers”. But what if we could periodically trade places with each other, taking turns experiencing each other pains, fears, and circumstances in life? In a world of trading places; the rich employers of the world would have to periodically leave their comfortable fortress and make their way down the lane of poverty, where many of their employees are being plagued by the insecurities of poverty. And they would witness the daily balancing acts from the children of their employees, who are trying to keep their thoughts afloat from drowning in the hopelessness of poverty, while also trying to retain the lessons that they’re being taught in school. They would also get to experience the desperation of their employees as they wrestle with the cold and unlovable hands of eviction while also trying to sidestep the hunger that is being forecasted in their immediate future. And the political leaders of the world would be evicted from the comfort and safety of their offices and trade places with the battle-worn soldiers in the front line of the battlefield; then they would know how it feels to put their lives at risk fighting unknown faces, in unknown places, for unscrupulous and unjust reasons. But being that we cannot re-program life in order to periodically trade places, we have to rely on the next best thing — empathy. It was empathy that moved the Quakers to shelter, feed and help to lead many unloved slaves to the underground railroad of freedom. And it was empathy that signed the legislation to put an end to the exploitation of child labor. Empathy is the peninsula of compassion in the sea of callousness, it feels the tears of others as if they were running down its own cheeks.  

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