People tend to not be concerned about issues that don’t ‘hit close to home’ because they feel like it’s something that could never happen to them, but even if most of us never experience war or lose our homes, it is important that we try to be a little more aware of what happens to other people around the world, even if we don’t see the relevancy of it to our lives.
Awareness is the first step, in my opinion, to understanding the kind of world we live in. Some people have the privilege of traveling to other countries to see firsthand how other people live, others can take classes about different cultures or can talk to other people who have gone places and have experienced things that they haven’t experienced. I understand that not everyone can travel to different places, but you shouldn’t have to leave your country or even your hometown to become aware of the different ways that people around you live and the kinds of things they experience.
It is possible to be a tourist in your own home. All you have to do is put on a different set of eyes and see, for the first time, instead of just looking. Many people judge homeless people because they have never had to experience not having a home or because they automatically assume that the person is homeless because of something they did to themselves. Not everyone is like this, but you may have heard a friend or a family member or someone on the subway blame people who are going through hard times for their current situations. But if they haven’t walked a mile in that person’s shoes, do they truly have the right to pass judgement?
People have the right to their own opinions, but don’t you think that the world would be a much better place if we replaced apathy with empathy? When you place the blame on someone else for their own situation, you are giving up the responsibility that you have to your neighbor. This doesn’t have to be anyone who lives in your neighborhood or even the person next door. If we all look at each other as global citizens and even, as one big family, then everyone you pass on the street is your neighbor in the loose sense of the word.
Let’s pretend for a moment that everyone looked at the world that way. From that perspective, it’s easier to see that blaming someone for their inability to get a job or to keep a roof over their heads is a way of being apathetic. When you don’t show concern for anything that is apathy and when you resort to blaming someone for something that happened to them, you are showing that you don’t care to understand this person’s predicament or even how it affects the people who love them.
It is extremely easy to be apathetic, especially if you don’t pay close attention to the news or if you don’t know what’s happening to other people around the world. You can live out your entire life without opening your eyes and still think that you can see. But once you start looking into what it’s like to wear this person’s shoes or that person’s shoes, the world becomes an entirely different place. Not only because you are aware but because that awareness can lead to understanding if you let it.
Empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for someone, it’s about sharing their feelings even if you can’t completely understand their situation. It’s about stepping outside of yourself and realizing that at the root of all of your experiences are feelings that can transcend any cultural, racial, or religious barriers that exists in our world today. You don’t have to agree with a person’s feelings or even their current situation but don’t let judgment be your first response to that disagreement. In fact, don’t let it be any of your responses. It’s impossible for us to understand what other people are going through because we don’t often take the time to try to understand.
I know that might be hard for everyone to do but empathy is not a foreign concept. We all have the ability to be empathetic; to understand and share the feelings of others. Though our experiences may differ, our emotions are all the same. There is not one emotion that is unique to any one culture, race, or religious group.
Once we all realize that, the world will slowly but surely become a better a place to live in.
Image: Chris Sardegna