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Empathy Erasure: The Remedy is Curiosity

Empathy Erasure: The Remedy is Curiosity November 11, 2021

Photo by 愚木混株 cdd20 on Unsplash

 

Would you rather listen than read? Click here to listen to the audio version of this article on the Recorded Conversations podcast.

There is such a weird trend circulating that is quite perplexing. The idea that no one will ever understand what it’s like to be another individual with a separate and unique experience is being popularized by those who want to live in perpetual victimhood. It says that because I am a “woman”, I will never understand what it’s like to be a “man”. It says that because I am “white” that I will never understand what it’s like to be “black.” That because I identify as a “woman”, as “female”, and “heterosexual”, that I could never understand what it’s like to be “gay”, “lesbian”, “bisexual” or “trans”. Really, the rhetoric implies that because I am this way, and clearly different than another, that there is no way I could ever understand what another’s life is like. That I could never understand emotions or experiences in which I felt outside of the norm.

Can I just say, this is the most ridiculous sort of trend that I have ever seen circulate? Not only that, but it’s gaining so much momentum that people actually believe it is impossible to understand anyone. If you combine this odd trend with another movement that continues to gain popularity—the Oppression Olympics—you’d be forced to conclude that empathy means nothing.

I’ve never been a “man” nor “black” nor “bisexual.” And I never will be what I am not. But does that really mean that I cannot understand what it feels like to be excluded, shamed, misunderstood, oppressed, shafted from the system, or rejected from family? Hell no. If anything, I know all too intimately what it feels like to be excluded, shamed, misunderstood, oppressed, shafted from the system, and rejected by my family. And I bet you do too.

Some will say, “Danielle, how dare you insist that you can relate to a black woman or a bisexual man.”

Dare I will. And Jesus dared as well. Don’t you remember? The whole point of Jesus’s ministry was to show that the neighbor is like the self. Jesus wanted to show Pharisees that tax collectors and prostitutes were people too and that it was possible to see God in all. Over 2,000 years later, we are all sitting around acting like Pharisees believing that our skin color, sexual orientation, gender, even how we interpret the Bible, separates us.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God, but in a weird turn of events, various forms of Christianity conclude that societal constructs and simple labels can separate us from everyone. More so, that which separates us, elevates us. Those who are separate are better than the rest.

How did we get here?

Could it be that we have allowed political propaganda, societal trends, and Hollywood hypocrites to influence us rather than letting our hearts guide us? Empathy comes from the heart, though it does not gain us, friends. The more we understand one another, or are at least willing to, the more we see ourselves as equal to everyone. So, the question is, why do so many want us to see ourselves as separate rather than united?

This traces back to the entitlement generation. Everyone needs to feel special; everyone needs a trophy merely for participating. These narratives changed the societal landscape for a collective that was once moving toward a “colorblind” society.

It wasn’t that long ago that many in the medical and scientific community believed “black” people had a higher threshold of pain than those with less melanin in their skin. It wasn’t that long ago that people once believed that if you were “gay”, that meant that something was “wrong” with you psychologically speaking. And with our advancements in society, we have come to understand that this is simply not true. People are born a certain way and that is beyond anyone’s control. The fight to show that same-sex orientation isn’t a biological defect was supposed to be a win for the gay community. But here we are insisting that sex and gender are no longer a thing—merely a societal construct. Meaning, it doesn’t matter if you have the legal right as a man to marry a man or as a woman to marry another woman, your sex and gender no longer mean anything at all. OK. Then isn’t race also a societal construct? Aren’t we ready for race to be deemed just as insignificant as gender and sex and even orientation?

Here we see another tragic misrepresentation of expression turned into exploitation. (See my previous blog for more about this.) We were gravitating toward a society that didn’t see color or sexual orientation as a means for division but merely as a difference, only to backtrack and exploit every different experience possible so that everyone could feel exclusive and special in their separateness. Thus, erasing empathy.

It wasn’t enough to see beyond color or beyond sexual orientation so that you can see the individual standing before you. No. You must be bold enough to be confronted with the difference and then cower in its shadow because you could never possibly understand what it feels like to be that different.

Excuse me, our very fingerprints blatantly demonstrate how very unique we are. Why does our uniqueness need any more categorization than it already has? Oddly enough, if you pause and think about it, the very idea that we are all unique yet need special groups to encourage uniqueness is absolute stupidity.

We are all born a way. And that way is beyond our control. So why is it that we need special labels for those born different? Aren’t we all born to a different set of circumstances, cultures, and experiences? Do we really need to grandstand and special-ize every experience as better than another, or more oppressed than another, or in need of more attention than another? What’s it all for?

Social Credit

We [the social ‘we’] need the credit of being different. It’s about status. We are forever chasing the elitist dream of golden roads and chalices, red carpets and audiences, elevation, self-celebration, and expectation of ego satiation. And it looks nothing at all like the humble servitude of Jesus the Christ, kneeling in a loincloth, washing the dirty feet of the disciples.

The more people agree with us, the more validated we feel by our beliefs and perceptions of the world. We feel special because others now see things the way we do. That makes us feel understood, and when we feel understood, we feel seen and heard. And that’s a good feeling. But when we are faced with any form of disagreement, divergence, or opposition to our beliefs and perceptions, the warm and fuzzy feelings of validation dissipate. In turn, this makes us feel excluded. And when we feel excluded, we typically (though unconsciously) want to make the other person feel the same, and we exclude them.

We exclude others by categorizing ourselves and them as different and therefore incapable of understanding. Which runs completely contrary to how understanding actually works. Understanding is not predicated on agreement or acceptance as fact. Understanding comes by way of empathy in that you can imagine (utilizing fantasy) what it would be like to be in the situation someone else has been in.

Jesus would conjure empathy from his audiences by utilizing parables and telling stories about other people in other situations. Situations that many of those folks would never experience for themselves. Jews knew they would never be Gentiles, but often they could relate to the parables in a way that they had a change of heart and mind simply by trying to put themselves in the sandals of another.

Today, there is a daily montage of scenarios shared by others who recall their own journeys with caveats that no one could possibly understand what they have been through. And if someone dares to share any likeness or resonance in understanding—if anyone extends empathy— then they are trying to erase the experience of another by not realizing how very unique and solitary that experience is. Or, in other avenues, that unless your skin color is like mine, unless your sexual orientation is like mine, unless the way you identify yourself is like me, you could never understand what it’s like to be me.

When I think about how many times the New Testament illustrates the great misunderstanding of Jesus, I often wonder what Jesus would think about how we interact with one another today. Strangely enough, Jesus didn’t seem to be all concerned with how many people understood him. What he focused on was those who admitted they didn’t understand but wanted to. They asked him questions, “Teacher, what does this mean?” He did something radical! He listened! Then responded.

Today, if asked, “What do you mean?” many will scoff and react with insta-indignation, highly offended that anyone would dare disbelieve what was just shared. It seems absurd on the surface, to suggest that people are easily and highly offended by questions, but the reality is we live in a society in which questions equal rejection of truth. The new rule says that if you question my experience if even to better understand it, you are discrediting me and making me a victim. It’s completely acceptable to erase empathy so long as you don’t make me feel as if you are trying to erase my experience. (And if it’s not your intention, it doesn’t matter, because my feelings trump your intentions.) Many people will use a sneaky little declaration to prevent questions, “If you question me, you are opposed to my truth.” If you are opposed to my truth, that must mean you are opposed to me.

If truth cannot be questioned, then what?

People do want to understand other people. Humans have a prewired inclination toward curiosity. It’s in our nature to be inquisitive—don’t you remember being a child? Why? How? When? What? Who? These are all questions we ask so that we can get a better picture of what another is telling us. But if questions become threats, will anyone extend curiosity? If one fears being curious, how can one possibly understand another? This is how empathy is erased.

We declare questions as an act of war rather than offering more information so that someone can understand us. And if you look at the greatest influence over our society, you’ll see it’s the government, politics, and the propaganda that they feed us, and you’ll recognize why questions (and critical thought) can be dangerous for a government that likes its secrets. Why not insist, instead, that listening to those in authority is for the greater good? That couldn’t possibly have any effect on relationships in general for its citizens, could it? (Insert sarcastic font.)

This sort of stuff trickles into the way we interact and interface with others, daily. It’s how unconscious programming works. We pick up on the rhetoric, we select from the talking points that are redundantly streamed to us, and we subtly transform our behaviors and practices to be more in alignment with systems that we participate in. And when we do this, it makes us feel good, because some categorized, authoritative, ruling agency tells us that we are good citizens if we follow their laws and rules. We feel morally principled. The religious institutions are really no different than the government and politicians that clog up our airwaves. Following the Law, minding the rules, and doing what authority instructs are pillars of a “good” Christian, Muslim, and Jew.

Empathy, as preached, is hardly empathy practiced. All the models of the systems that wish to maintain control will insist that we must care about the common collective, the greater good (one would question what or who the “greater good” are, but I digress). And by being “empathetic” somehow, we can accomplish the utopian dream of absolute unity. But [fake] empathy is merely a political talking point for an authoritative agenda that continues to stuff the wealthy hogs at the top while the peasants starve at the bottom.

There is so much focus on the “collective” and special groups, labels, and categories than there are on the individual. The individual is too unique and possibly too unrelatable based on the terms (and the faulty logic) of understanding. There is strength in numbers, the individual is 1. Thus, the need for a collective. Not just the grand collective of all humanity, but special collectives that are elevated above other collectives.

There is another advantage to a system creating fake empathy for a minority group in the name of the common good. It’s easier to pass bills and create laws when you have special but “diverse” groups that need economic and social justice. I mean, how else can the government sell an idea to you, the voter, that costs billions of dollars if we all already see one another as equal and one? Well, they can’t so long as you are being told that someone is more oppressed than you. Or, that you will never understand how because you are different. It’s up to us, the government, to provide for these oppressed people. (Never mind the government is the biggest oppressor of all time, but I digress.)

There are so many messages delivered to us every day that erase empathy and distort compassion. More disappointing than that is how susceptible we are to programming. I fall for it all the time. I know I am not alone. There are ways to remedy this ailment that plagues our civilization, however.

Curiosity Leads to Empathy

We must be willing to see the Other as ourselves. We must be willing to recognize the mirror before us whenever we stand face-to-face with another. If you can’t (or refuse to) this is a clear sign that you really have no business interacting with this individual in the first place. I recognize that many people claim they are being empathetic to a cause when really, they are just looking for a reason to argue with or debate another simply because they were triggered by something they said (or posted/tweeted).

Empathy is not for causes; it is for people—more specifically for individuals. Empathy doesn’t require an argument or debate, nor a defense. Most importantly, empathy is balanced in dark and light. What I mean is that empathy is not just extended when one is suffering. It is also extended when one is experiencing joy and success. Sadly, most of us don’t know how to extend empathy in times of joy and celebration. Instead, we extend our jealousy and contempt. This also contributes to how empathy is erased.

We don’t balance our empathy, and then it becomes half-assed empathy. It also explains why authentic empathy cannot be conjured or created by authoritative agencies. You can’t just make someone understand another experience without some sort of proximal physicality or presence. (This may contribute to the reason why CRT is so aggressively opposed.) When someone feels as if they are being forced to extend empathy (because it’s the “right thing to do), many will reject the sentiment and dig their heels in to protect their own ideologies.

Empathy requires presence. Awareness. Mindfulness. We are one heck of a distracted collective of humans, especially in the United States. We are more mindless than we are mindful. To combat that, paying attention can help us develop our empathy skills. Now I don’t mean the type of attention paying we do when we are swiping our thumbs on screens (similarly to swiping cards when we are shopping). That’s transactional attention and while it’s useful in some instances, it is detrimental when it comes to authentic connections that require empathy.

Empathy is best offered when we go from seeing to defining to understanding. You see, what cannot be seen cannot be defined and what cannot be defined cannot be understood. This makes it easier to understand why so many believe that we are suffering from an empathy “deficiency.” It’s rather difficult to extend empathy to that which I don’t understand. But there are so many narratives circulating that insist understanding is merely believing what you have been told. And if you don’t understand what you have been told, then there is something “wrong” with you.

Again, the current trend is to disregard asking questions as a means to gain understanding. Instead, asking questions is a sign of doubt of what has been said. This is simply not true. When one asks for more information, it is not because you are being doubted. The more I can realize that your story resonates with my own journey in life, the more empathy I can extend. The more you reveal to me the more I see myself. That’s the goal. To see you as me and me as you. How can I do that if I am restricted from actually understanding you? If I cannot see your emotions, I ask you to define them, and once they are defined, I can relate and thus understand.

 

 

About Danielle M Kingstrom
Danielle is the host of the Recorded Conversations podcast. A podcast dedicated to compassionately considering all perspectives while engaging in authentic, connected dialogue. She is also an erotic embodiment advisor with Naked Tree Advising. As an advisor, Danielle assists with the development of emotional and erotic intelligence for individuals and couples You can read more about the author here.

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