Entertaining Empathy for Change
This post originally appeared on my blog, http://nopithyphrase.blogspot.com/2014/06/entertaining-empathy-for-change.html. Please feel free to pass along.
I have a funny post pending for tomorrow. Today is something else I need to discuss. Today I am not funny. I read a lot of online news and such (it's slow at work right now), and the past few days I've been pretty disgusted.
Do you know there was a fatal car crash in Houston today? A woman with two small boys, ages 4 and 6, hit a tree. She was killed, her boys were injured. While waiting for help to arrive, bystanders saw people STEALING THE GROCERIES FROM THE FRONT SEAT OF HER CAR. With a dead woman and injured children still in the car. I'm horrified at the thieves AND at the bystanders.
In Dallas yesterday, a car hit the median and flipped over. By the time the police arrived, they could do nothing but watch the car burn with two people inside and hope to god the passengers were dead already for mercy's sake. The officer who spoke about it was ashen-faced and teary-eyed. Bystanders videotaped the whole incident on their cell phones. No one attempted to help before the car started on fire.
I can't even begin to discuss the #YesAllWomen comments I've seen from both sides. I understand the anger, I empathize with many of the stories relayed through the movement. I'm disgusted by the troll commentary. I've lived similar situations and dealt with the ingrained sexism in our culture. But I also see that common sense is being set aside. I'm a realist who appreciates the idealism of social movements but understands the predators, criminals, and assholes out there will never allow an ideal state to occur. I'm a feminist who believes firmly in equality and respect between the sexes should be the way of the world, but who also knows how to (and regularly DO) adjust my behavior, dress, and attentiveness based on my situation and surroundings. That's not giving in to sexist society: that's consciously taking responsibility for my own safety, which I believe is a necessary outlook for women and men. I've seen too much backlash against men as a gender, which doesn't' allow for any attempt at mutual understanding. To the girl who bitchily tried to force a male ER nurse from his table at lunchtime yesterday, loudly proclaiming his wish to eat his lunch at the table he was at first was sexist and he should move "BECAUSE I'M A WOMAN AND I WANT IT," I wish I'd been there. I would've slapped you across the face, you entitled idiot. Women like you are just as sexist as the sexism you protest, and you aren't helping equality at fucking all.
Do you know what the #YesAllWomen movement has in common with the current uproar about the US trading Gitmo prisoners for a POW who may or may not have been a deserter? I assure you, there IS a commonality here.
COMPASSION. EMPATHY. SYMPATHY. RESPECT. Specifically, the utter LACK of compassion, empathy or sympathy displayed by individual and the "mob" right now.
This is more than a common courtesy issue: this is a significant public inability or refusal to bother thinking, even for a single instant, how the person being attacked might feel.
Yes, that absolutely applies to both #YesAllWomen and the backlash against it. It also applies to the fight women face in places like Afghanistan and India where the threat of attack, rape, and death is a very real and constant thing. It applies in places like Saudi Arabia where women are legally considered children. It applies in the Sudan where men and women can be killed for being the wrong religion. It applies in Uganda where a gay couple can be murdered legally for who they love. Anytime a society sees a group of people as sub-human, property, or less-than-equal in any way that society gives permission to cruelty. Period.
So what about this POW all over the news? I saw today President Obama will not apologize for bringing him home. Good. He shouldn't. He did the right thing. I don't give a hoot whether you voted for President Obama or not: the man enforced a basic Military value, a basic American value even, in bringing home a soldier languishing for FIVE YEARS in terrorist custody.
And yet, that man's hometown has been attacked by an incensed mob for planning a welcome-home party. A welcome home party the town has held annually since the Sergeant was captured as a "bring him home" party, which is now cancelled. That man's parents have been attacked in the media, called terrorist sympathizers, called traitors and worse. Why? Because the dad said he wouldn't shave his beard until his son was home. Because his dad tried through Twitter to get the Taliban to release his son. Because they loved their son, who was held against his will by deadly people in a situation that could result in long-term torture or his death. What parent wouldn't fight to get their kid back?
I don't give a flying fuck whether that kid was attempting to desert or just out for a pee when he got captured. I don't know how he was captured. I don't know what was going on in his unit or during his tour. Experts are currently battling it out publicly whether he "deserved" to come home and if he's responsible for other soldiers' deaths. That's a military matter for the military court to determine: NOT the court of armchair quarterbacks squawking over each other for ratings and political clout. It's really so disheartening and disgusting. I didn't live through five years of captivity by the enemy. I DON'T KNOW WHAT HE WENT THROUGH. Ultimately, the media is so intent on demonizing this man and his family they've utterly lost the point of the whole situation. Criminal or not, he belongs in his home country, even if that's for review of his former actions. It's up to his military to determine wrongdoing and mete out punishment or not: that has no bearing on whether a US soldier should be left to rot in a POW prison. Period.
And you know what, Fox News Media people and other trolls? It's ok to let those parents celebrate the fact that their son is alive and back on US soil. It's ok for them to be happy his ordeal at the hands of the enemy is over. It's ok for them to celebrate their son is alive. And if it's discovered later that he should serve time for desertion or anything else, at least he's back in the US.
I firmly believe if you want to follow the "be the change you want to see in the world" you are responsible for fostering the improvements. Call it paying something forward. Call it protecting someone from bullying, or calling out someone (respectfully) on their shitty behavior when it happens and saying that's not acceptable. I'm a huge introvert. I avoid people often and generally prefer not to be bothered. If I'm able to think about what it might be like in someone else's shoes and have basic respect for people as human beings, it's not that goddamned difficult.
Will it backfire on you sometimes? Absofuckinglutely. Does that matter? Not even a little bit. What if that one moment of kindness stops someone from killing themselves that day? What if it stops a kid from feeling alone and rejected?
Will kindness and compassion stop homicidal rampages, or rapes, or child killers or molestations? No. As a realist, of course I know it won't. There will always be evil and suffering in the world: nature is balance, and that means there's good AND bad out there. But ineffectual mob attacks, online and in-person bullying, unharnessed lashing-out anger, and selfish indifference to those around you only perpetuates the bad, and that is creating negative change in your surroundings.
Nothing improves a relationship, a community, any group of people faster than kindness and respect. Period.
I challenge you to do a single act of kindness for someone today. I don't care if it's buying the person's coffee behind you in the Starbucks drive through or mowing a neighbor's lawn. I don't care if it's reaching out to a friend to say hello and that you miss them. I don't care if it's cleaning the house so your spouse or parent doesn't have to. Small acts of kindness add up and are easily repeated. If we're going to spread an emotion like a virus the way trolls and media spread nastiness, make it an effort to spread compassion and respect.
Compassion. Empathy. Sympathy. All definitions from www.dictionary.com.
/kəmˈpæʃən/ Show Spelled [kuhm-pash-uhn]
1. a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.
/ˈɛmpəθi/ Show Spelled [em-puh-thee]
1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
/ˈsɪmpəθi/ Show Spelled [sim-puh-thee]
1. harmony of or agreement in feeling, as between persons or on the part of one person with respect to another.
2. the harmony of feeling naturally existing between persons of like tastes or opinion or of congenial dispositions.
3. the fact or power of sharing the feelings of another, especially in sorrow or trouble; fellow feeling, compassion, or commiseration.