Empathy and Mean Memes

Hands of different races
Hands of different races

“When you show deep empathy toward others, their defensive energy goes down, and positive energy replaces it. That’s when you can get more creative in solving problems.” ~ Stephen Covey

“The struggle of my life created empathy – I could relate to pain, being abandoned, having people not love me.” ~ Oprah Winfrey

“I always think that if you look at anyone in detail, you will have empathy for them because you recognize them as a human being, no matter what they’ve done.” ~ Andrea Arnold

About a week ago I saw this meme on Facebook. “Unpopular opinion: We are not all equal. I worked my ass off to get where I am, I deserve what I have, I shouldn’t have to give up what I’ve worked for to make things equal.” ~ Whisper. When I read this meme, I found it disturbing on several different levels. First of all, it shows a lack of empathy, which I believe to be extremely important in human relations. Second of all, the writer assumes there is not enough abundance to go around which I believe to be completely untrue. We just need to spread the abundance around so everyone has enough.

The other day I was at Target before going to teach my evening class at the college. I couldn’t help but overhear a conversation between the man in front of me and the cashier. The customer said that he hoped the cashier’s shift was nearly over, to which the cashier replied, “Nope. I don’t get off until 9:00 tonight … four more hours. And I’m tired. I just came from my other job.” Of course the customer commiserated with the cashier which affected me deeply. I nearly cried. What must that young man’s life be like? Does he have any down time at all? Or is his life going from one job to the next just so he can survive. How horrible. It’s like he’s condemned to a living hell.

We often make the assumption that people who are poor are lazy. I don’t believe that’s true as evidenced by the cashier at Target. It takes a great deal of effort for the less fortunate to make ends meet, which leaves little time for additional education, or looking for a better job, or having fun with family and friends.

When I overheard the conversation in Target, I thought again of the above meme. The writer assumes that some people are more deserving than others. I don’t believe that to be true. We all come from the same place and our country is founded on that very idea. In the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” I think what Thomas Jefferson meant was that every single person born on this planet is seen by the Creator as having the same value to every other person, and that VALUE has nothing to do with what we own, the job we have, how hard we work, or anything else which is visible. Our value is something intangible, known to God and only minimally to ourselves.

Most of us are incapable of seeing another person’s or even our own true self. We have no idea who they or we are beyond the tangible things we associate with personhood. That’s the tragedy humans have been trying to overcome since we became the human race. The have nots feel their worth instinctively, while the haves sometimes arrogantly assume they have more worth than anyone else. We hold so tightly onto what we have because we’re afraid of losing it. But our country was founded on the idea that if we share what we have with each other, we all become richer. It has been one attempt to give everyone a chance to be free to navigate their own path and to fulfill their personal destiny. It hasn’t been a perfect experiment as we all know. However, I think, perhaps, we are in a new era of attempting to reset the balance so that everyone can thrive and find their perfect life. It seems to be happening in various ways all over the planet, people standing up for their rights and doing things that change our perspective of what it means to be a person of worth.

In my opinion the solution to our current financial, political, and religious imbalance is to share what abundance we have with each other, to be open and try to understand one another. Compassion and empathy are things each of us can learn. Now when the world is in such turmoil it seems a particularly good time to dedicate ourselves to cultivating both empathy and compassion. It doesn’t take much, just do what Harper Lee wrote in To Kill A Mockingbird. “You never understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or share with a friend.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016

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