Empathy lays the foundation for building compassion, which helps us to deepen in care, kindness, and generosity toward one another and ourselves. These are some of the building blocks necessary to creating healthy relationships, healthy communication, and healthy communities. In a world that has been steeped in ‘othering’ as a cultural habit and norm, empathy, compassion, care, kindness, and generosity are medicine.
We live in a world that has taught us to choose sides, identify enemies, and show kindness only to those who are most like us. We favor the opinions of those who agree with us, sometimes casting aside or scoffing at other perspectives. And in some cases, even looking down upon those who have different beliefs, traditions, or cultures.
In the worst cases, we begin to dehumanize the ‘other’, forming prejudices around them in our minds, including negative judgments about their character, morality, and intelligence. Which can lead to exclusion, persecution, violence, and oppression.
This is a dangerous and slippery slope, and a tragic pattern that is present across the vastness of time and space of human history on Earth. It is a pattern that is generations deep, and one that spans across the globe.
This social dynamic of ‘othering’ happens in small ways and in big ways. And it’s happening right now, in so many of our communities.
There is currently a disturbing amount of divisiveness and unkindness taking hold in people, who otherwise love and care for the people in their lives deeply. It is heart-breaking to witness.
It’s been a hard year and a half. We have all been through a collective trauma as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are all eager to have our freedoms back, to reunite with our loved ones, and enjoy life again like we did before the lockdowns began in March 2020.
We as a collective are frustrated, exhausted, and exasperated with the regulations that disrupt our lives, limit our livelihoods, and cut off access to our communities.
For humans who are in such states of vulnerability, it is natural for emotions to run high and for unhealthy patterns (behaviours and thoughts) to take root. Unfortunately, we can also become more prone to acting and speaking from places of fear, anger, and judgement. It can somehow become easier to feed into divisions, dehumanize others, and create one-dimensional caricatures of those who we perceive to be of the “wrong” opinion.
Communities across North America and the world right now are saturated with these kinds of dynamics as it relates to the COVID-19 vaccine. There is so much ugliness unfolding – so much division, and so much fear, frustration, and anger being thrown at the ‘other’ side, from both sides of the vaccine debate.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We need to hear one another, and stay vigilant as to not fall into the trap of demonizing one another along the way.
In some cases, people are couching in their righteousness, passing judgements on those they perceive as not sharing the same moral convictions as their own. And then writing these individuals off as somehow less deserving of compassion and empathy. Pointing fingers, shouting, and labelling people – pushing us deeper and deeper into division. Friendships are being broken, employment is being threatened, family relationships are becoming strained, communities that were once harmonious are becoming internally polarized and divided.
We are in a pressure cooker, we have been for some time, and the temperature is ripe for us to turn on each other. I urge you to please reconsider before you speak, whether your words will drive deeper division or cultivate greater unity. We must continue to talk about the issue, it is an important topic of public safety, consent, and community care that cannot and should not be avoided. But rather let us consider HOW we talk about the issues at hand. Misinformation, disinformation, and incomplete data points are present. Given this fact, and if the end goal really IS for the collective well-being of all, let us practice empathy, compassion, kindness and generosity as we continue to engage these conversations with one another.
Let us learn to embody the things that we are striving for, not just in our political, moral, or intellectual stance – but in the ways we speak to and treat one another.
What is it that you stand for, in your heart? How can you be more compassionate toward those different from you? A little humility, empathy, and care can go a long way.