My Unfair Distribution Of Empathy
It is very hard for me to understand how other people don’t get the same information as I do and come to the same conclusions. I know that sounds silly because I’m the queen of empathy – but I seem to have an easier time having empathy for people in TOTALLY DIFFERENT situations as me, than I do for someone who lives a similar life as I do but makes entirely different choices even when exposed to the same information.
Someone over a decade ago pointed out to me that casually throwing around the word “retarded” was offensive to many people with mental disabilities or who loved people with mental disabilities. I was offended at first, I’m pretty sure I even ranted about “political correctness” in my head. But eventually? Once I put my pride aside? I accepted her polite correction and adjusted my language accordingly. YET – the same issue has gotten so big that there’s even an official campaign and people still refuse to change their language because they don’t like being told what they can and can not say.
If an uneducated person who isn’t exposed to people like me constantly posting links to stories about the End The R-Word campaign uses the word “retarded,” I can weirdly empathize with them because that was me 10 years ago. But someone who I know has heard of the efforts to rid the world of the casual use of it, yet still uses it? I struggle desperately to understand their point of view. I find myself getting more angry with them than with the poor Mom without the internet who is struggling just to pay her utility bill – much less have time to learn about campaigns to correct language.
The issue that this relates to currently is the response of “All Lives Matter” as a “protest” of sorts to the whole “Black Lives Matter” movement. At first? I had the same response in the days following Mike Brown’s death when the hashtag first gained popularity. “BUT ALL LIVES SHOULD MATTER!” But then, as usual, someone casually pointed out to me that the point is that all lives don’t matter. That the black community, especially in poor neighborhoods, see unjust deaths at the hands of police officers regularly and no one cares.
Since then there have been at least a million other metaphors used to explain it. There’s all houses matter, there’s the fair share of dinner metaphor. There’s quotes from everyone from John Steward to Trevor Noah. Every day now I see at least 50 GREAT explanations about how/why #alllivesmatter is unnecessary. About how #blacklivesmatter does not negate the value of other lives. Especially blue ones. I see defenses and explanations all over the place and YET…YET…people still insist: ALL LIVES MATTER without realizing that they’re not countering anything. OF COURSE THE #BLM COMMUNITY BELIEVES ALL LIVES MATTER. That’s the point. They WANT all lives to matter. But their deaths often do not.
I just really struggle when someone of my same race/class/education level gets the same information I do and does not come to the same conclusions. The same goes for the idea that many people still believe homosexuality is a choice. Even if a gay person explains to them, “No. This is who I am. I could no more choose NOT to love someone of my same gender than you could NOT to love someone of a different gender.” They still won’t believe it. They justify it with Satan, or blame it on society, or something. They don’t walk away with the same view I do, “Oh. Okay. So that’s just part of who they are. Why would I treat them differently for that?”
There’s really no point to this entry other than vocalizing this struggle lately. I really try to be the queen of empathy. I try to dig deep and understand how people become who they are and how they come to see the world how they do. I see a young black man raised in a broken family turning to crime and ending up in and out of prison his entire adult life and I think, I can see exactly how he ended up there. Put me in the same situation and I might have ended up the same place. I see his life of violence and I actually can empathize in a weird way because it’s so different from my life experience that I can somehow see myself taking the same path if you put me in his shoes.
But give me a middle class white woman in the same community as I am, exposed to the same resources and people, and she still uses the word “retarded,” thinks homosexuality is a choice, and constantly responds with #alllivesmatter to all of her #blm friends and I angrily think, I DO NOT UNDERSTAND HER AT ALL! I have an easier time offering empathy to the 60-year old black man in prison for murder than I do the soccer Mom who won’t share a bathroom with a transgender woman.
It’s a fault of mine, I know. And I’m really trying to dig into it to allow myself to be able to show the same empathy to people on my same walk but who have different interpretations, as I do for people on entirely different journeys. I guess I’m just wondering if anyone else has this problem? Anyone else have an easier time letting behavior and attitudes slide from people different from you are than people who seem very similar?