Sep 6 0 Comments

Empathy in a cold world


It may be a form of coping mechanism. We trick ourselves into believing that other people’s pain can’t possibly be as painful as ours. As if I feel more when I cut myself on a knife than my neighbor does. Theoretically this may be true, because pain is hard to measure. It is still a poor excuse for ignoring other people’s suffering.

In a world that seems to grow ever colder, I think about empathy. Empathy is feeling the pain of the stab although the knife penetrates your neighbor’s flesh. Somehow, in all the commotion of turning our world into a place where the self is glorified, and no means are shunned to obtain the glory, we have forgotten empathy.

I see it so clearly in my own country where the most sought-after politician is the one who consistently speaks of refugees and asylum seekers with contempt and disrespect, never once mentioning the journey they have made, and why they came. I see it as the politicians bicker, always arguing about who will ease the life of the comfortable, but rarely suggesting we give rather than grab. You have to ask yourself: Are they so occupied with their rhetoric that they have forgotten what it feels like to be human? A human who is hungry and cold, that is.

I see it in the world where presidents and heads of state compete in their efforts of keeping refugees out of their countries, claiming it is for security, but knowing, all along, that security is relative, and it is to find security these people have fled.

I see it in the church where people who claim they believe the words of the Bible seem not to have read one word of what it said. Because, if they had, they would have seen in it commands to care for the alien, the poor, the orphans and the widows—the exact people so many so-called followers of Jesus try very hard to keep out of their neighborhoods. Nowhere in the Bible did God tell his people to reject the victims of oppression of war if their dress code differs from ours, if their posture when praying seems odd, or if their languages have a different tone to it than our own. Rather, he told us that whatever we do to one of these, we do to Him. It should not only raise eyebrows. It ought to make us feel ashamed.

As I write this, I have friends from Myanmar who are fleeing for their lives. Many of them don’t make it. Their own government try to shoot them, behead them, burn them, or, if nothing else works, starve them. As waves of Rohingya people flee from their already miserable lives, I wonder: Who cares?

As the Rohingya flee, and Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains as silent as the corpses littering the road to Bangladesh, we must not forget that we too must act. We cannot allow ourselves to grow so cold that the murder of children doesn’t affect us. We must not allow ourselves to focus on what we will lose if we share, that the death of innocent people become a mere necessity in order for us to keep living our lives in comfort.

Empathy is painful. It is not comfortable or energizing. Still, it is necessary if we want to be human. To be alive is to feel, even though the feeling stings. I think we need to start feeling the stabs of our neighbors better. In order to remain alive to what really matters.

PS. I am proud of what my organisation, Partners, does to show empathy. If if you want to give or get involved in other ways, please do. Here is the link.