Let me begin by stating that this piece of writing has nothing to do with my work and everything to do with being human. Empathy is a difficult topic for me to write about because it unleashes a downpour of emotions that can hardly be written down coherently, let alone condensed for a short essay. My initial thought is that empathy feels like a basic human instinct. It’s not a hard concept to grasp. All you need do is put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand how they would feel. Doing this would perhaps change your course of action by allowing you to experience someone else’s perspective. If you’re looking for a more familiar term, you may recall ‘The Golden Rule’. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Yet here we are, a debatably intelligent adult society, with systems and constructs that exhibit a severe lack of empathy. And in some cases, they embrace the complete opposite. So here I am, marinating in my incredulity at this disconnect and wondering what I can possibly say next.
Living in New York can be emotionally draining for an empathetic person. There is injustice and suffering in your face every single day. Add that to the rest of the world’s problems and it takes a serious toll on your psychological wellbeing. In retrospect, I suppose I can’t really blame the individual for completely disengaging, because it hurts to care. To give you an example, if you have ever been on a subway here in New York, you will know the instant disconnect that happens when you step on. Headphones go in, eyes go down, barriers go up. Meanwhile a severely broken, disadvantaged or mentally unstable person is standing there pouring their heart out begging for food and money, completely ignored. It’s much easier to give zero F’s than to be in emotional turmoil whenever someone asks for help and you can’t help them.
So herein lies the problem with empathy. What the hell does one person do when the system is failing people every day? Stop caring and become a heartless zombie? Keep caring and become depressed and hopeless? Keep creating art in the hope that it will bring happiness to someone’s life and make a difference in the world? I guess that has been my answer so far. I try to remind myself that with the bad comes the good. And on its good side, empathy has the ability to make you experience a human connection that is so raw and powerful, allowing you to share in someone’s joys, successes, heartbreaks and downfalls as if they were your own. This experience is uniquely human and I truly believe that ALL relationships crave this level of connection to thrive. Without it, people are left broken and forgotten, which leads to more breaking and forgetting. So as much as it hurts sometimes, I choose to feel deeply rather than to feel nothing at all, and I guess that leaves me where I started… with a lot of emotions.