“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” –Mother Teresa
Empathy is something we hear a lot about in pop culture. People often share quizzes or quotes about being an empathy. As much as the word is thrown around in today’s society, I wish it was practiced more.
Empathy is often confused with sympathy but those two emotions are very different. Sympathy is understanding that a person is experiencing a particular emotion. Empathy is feeling that particular emotion alongside the person.
What I pull from Mother Teresa’s words are powerful. We may understand that a particular group of people have a plight and we may recognize they are vulnerable and marginalized but do we truly empathize with them?
Because a group of people are experiencing a shared plight do we somehow believe this diminishes their struggles? Often we view people we disagree with as a group of nameless and faceless people. We see immigrants, African Americans, LBGTQ people, and other marginalized people of society. Because we look at the “mass” we fail to recognize the dignity and inherent worth of the individual person that makes up the “masses”.
Each person has an experience that is different from your own. That experience is as valid as yours. We lose that when we see people as nameless and faceless enemy.
I think the best example of empathy was stated by Jesus Christ. He advised “love one another as yourself”. This means we recognize that the stranger in the mass has a personhood that is separate from my own. I think Jesus was also highlighting that in many ways we can be harder on other people than we are on ourselves.
We understand our intentions. We know where our heart was. Yet we always question the motives of others. We are quick to assume another’s wrong doings and not give the benefit of the doubt. If we loved others as we loved ourselves, we wouldn’t rush t judgment about other people’s motives but give them time to make them known.
By only seeing people as part of a “mass” we maintain that shroud around them, perpetuating a two dimensional understanding of them. We have to recognize that people of all walks want what we all want: our basic physical and psychological needs to be met. When we prevent that we are denying an individual’s personhood. In a fair and free society we validate everyone’s experience while not denying a person’s existence.
We should always keep in mind that behind every issue, political or other, is the “one” that makes up the “mass”. That one is a person who has thoughts, feelings, and perspective on the world.
Empathy is one of those buzz words that is often thrown around in pop culture and it seems very little understand the complexity of the emotion or what it truly means to empathize with another person. Its understanding that we can disagree while recognizing the complexity of the person we disagree with. It’s a way for us to maintain our humanity. It’s something to consider the next time you are faced with the “mass”; consider the “one”.
Rarely do I ever need to remind myself of this quote. I have had this mentality as long as I can remember. I tend to be optimistic about things. I am not naïve about the world. I see reality but I have lived long enough to know that most things are temporary.
That includes the good things, not just the bad. Life seems to be a balancing act of good and bad events and everyone of them has not lasted. It passed.
I have this unyielding belief that things get better. I believe I was born with that disposition but chose a long time ago to nurture it.
You can chose to see the world two ways:
1) Life is good with some bad events.
2) Life is bad with some good events.
Every human falls into one of those categories. Obviously one is more harmful than the other. And it is all temporary.
It bring comfort to me to know that the negative events that happen to me are not forever. The sun will really come out tomorrow. Metaphorically at least. I know that a few bad days strung together might make a terrible week but my month can still be good. Its all about perspective.
Asking yourself questions like “Why Me?” only perpetuates a negative attitude. It also demonstrates the thought process that you are above hardship. No one is above hardship. Everyone will suffer. Instead ask “Why not me?”. I do not mean that in an excited way but instead mean it as a way to put things into perspective. There are over seven billion people on the planet. Negative things are happening to someone somewhere. Its bound to catch up with you sooner or later. But on the same side of that coin, good things happen as well. Life’s pleasures happen to you as well. Humans tend to only focus on the negative events, which reinforces our beliefs that negative things are always happening to us.
It is my opinion that we focus more on negative events largely because it feeds the innate insecurity that humanity has. Obviously there are more things in play than insecurity but I believe that is the most driving force in all of humanity. Even love. However, that is for another topic at a later time.
The proverb “This Too Shall Pass” should be a reminder that negative events do not last. They are finite. They appear for a small time and then vanish. Sure the effects may be felt long after they are gone but healing may occur. Life goes on; as Robert Frost pointed out. Also, “This Too Shall Pass” should help us understand even good things do not last. We should be appreciating them as we have them. The people in our lives. The time we spend with those people. Even our material blessings.
I read a meme once that affirmed if you count her blessings and material things are among them then you do not know what blessings are. While I agree material things are not the most important of blessings, I believe they are still blessings. Any good thing in one’s life is a blessing and maybe some of the bad too.
It is my hope that we remember that bad things happen but not forever. Good things come into our lives and also leave. We should just be thankful we have the experiences that shape who we have become. For even those awful experiences add to ourselves. You can learn and grow as a person. You can work towards being better for it. You can choose optimism.