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Saturday, 10 August 2019

A Lesson in Empathy

I was sitting with one of my relatives and casually used a swear word as an adverb. I immediately apologized as I was aware the relative disliked cursing, and then we had a brief talk about language and empathy.

In my view, words are based on context. Saying 'nigger' or 'fuck' or 'cunt' are all dependent on the context around those words. Telling someone to fuck off is very different from saying I had a fucking great day, etc. I understand that many people (like my relative) don't like cursing and find it crass, vulgar or unnecessary. This is due to the negative associations around these words which I may brush aside but may make others uncomfortable or annoyed.

The solution? If I'm around someone whom I know dislikes cursing (and they are someone I care about ) I will do my best not to curse around them. When I'm with my friends or writing on le blog I can do what I like, but if I'm with someone who dislikes something I will do my best to modify my behaviour. This isn't to change who I am or 'people-please', it's about empathy.

Empathy is one of the most important facets of being human. Empathy is the mark of true wisdom; the ability to look at another person and say 'I don't agree with your worldview but I respect your right to practice it.' Unfortunately, with our 'outrage culture', people are losing sight of empathy and becoming more arrogant and self-righteous in their thinking. We see it everywhere; on the internet, on the news, in adverts.

Everyone has a right to an opinion, and we all stand by our opinions - that is why they are there. However, we often forget that not everyone has to think like us. It is one thing to say 'I think this' and another to say 'everyone has to think like this and people who don't are wrong.' Believe it or not, I've heard folks talk like this multiple times and have a hefty level of disrespect for those who do. Something as irrelevant as a pizza topping causes controversy - I adore pineapple on pizza. You don't have to darling, but I think it's nice and going into my stomach, not yours. How on earth does what I eat affect you?

A more serious example is the abortion debate. People have every right to disagree with abortion and to find it a heinous, vile act and loath it in every way. What baffles me is when those same people believe they are entitled to put down another person for their lifestyle choices that don't affect them whatsoever. I find it strange that someone can be so egocentric and selfish that they think they can force another person to have a child they don't want. And yet, they are entitled to think as they think. They can protest all they like against abortion - as long as they don't actively force their views on others. That's where harmony and civil liberty becomes disrupted.

It takes a long time to reach a place where you accept people's beliefs and see things from everyone's point of view, regardless of agreement. Where you can simply sit calmly and not feel violated or furious at someone else's choice of words. I believe it's what Buddhists call 'Nirvana' and is where I hope to mentally be in thirty years' time.

None of us do anything without reason. Hitler had his reasons for doing the horrific acts he did. That doesn't excuse his actions, but in his eyes, his behaviour was justified. When we open ourselves up to seeing every perspective, even the ones we find awful or stupid, we see the world in ways we didn't think we could.

This is the key role of a writer; to provide various windows in which the world can be observed. To show how a schizophrenic, or a psychopath, or an introspective lesbian may see the world despite not sharing those desires or emotions. When you consider another's point of view, you may be amazed at what you see.

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