I think about empathy a LOT. Almost everything I see leads me to it and lately the uproar around the measles outbreak and vaccines has done it.
Primarily what’s got me going are the angry people lashing out at the anti-vaccine crowd and berating their supreme stupidity. I am not here to argue for or against vaccines. (For the record we went forward with most vaccines, on schedule, for our daughter.) But I am concerned with a more broad view of the situation – namely, how we treat those in the minority that most of society view as the wrong-doers.
I do believe in the profound importance of discussing hard issues and not tip-toeing around them for the sake of being nice. In fact, I think the nicest thing to do is help someone see the error of their ways in hopes that they can correct course and be better off for it. And in my world view we are all connected so how you live your life effects me, this increasing the importance of talking about the choices we all have to make.
As an example, the importance of breastfeeding and not doing CIO are two areas I am passionate about right now. I really want people to see that making an effort in these areas is in their best interests (and thus societies best interests). But I know a lot of people think it is really best to stay out of each others parenting. And I understand why! It is so sticky because it is easy to feel negatively judged around such things. So I think a lot about how to encourage people to not take things personally or feel ashamed if they don’t meet the ideals. Myself included! As far as I can tell from my research thus far empathy is the way forward with this.
Empathy is defined as such (from Wikipedia): The capacity to understand what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference, ie, the capacity to place oneself in another’s shoes. I take this to an extreme and really feel like we are all largely a product of our circumstances and that most people would be behaving in the same way given the same circumstances. So I don’t see ANY room to criticize others. I have become radical with my empathy. I have empathy for the most terrible person I can think of – the cereal killer who might some day kidnap my own daughter. K? And I am more and more convinced that this is the key to peace and true progress. It seems to me that only when you can truly respect the other side will they be able to truly hear your message.
Of course I have not always been this way. In the past I have been quite angry over such things as the pollution of our shared planet, social injustice and inequality to name a few. I ranted and I lashed out, I blamed and I hated. In, there is probably evidence of such on this very blog. Anyhow, it burned me. And ever since I have been struggling and growing with the idea of empathy for myself and others.
So to bring it back…when I see many of my progressive and “peace loving” friends hating on people they don’t agree with it alarms me. Of course it is sad that innocent people are being put at risk but that does not justify name calling! Anger happens and may even be justified, but to act from that place is not healthy. Even if there were zero debate over the safety of vaccinations I would still be saddened by the shaming that is going on. And because of the fact that there is still a debate over the issues, if anyone truly cares to convince others to vaccinate – ganging up, bullying and calling your opponents idiots is not the way to go about it!