“If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will.” –Mother Teresa

“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”.

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“On some fundamental level we find it difficult to understand that other people are human beings in the same way that we are.” – John Green

Society has a problem with devaluing other people. Pop cultured is littered with examples of people diminishing other people to their labels. Songs, movies, and books often show case humans as only their race, religion, sexual preference, disability, or gender. Those tend to be more the popularly used groups of division.

The problem with only seeing someone as the label that has been placed on them is we tend to forget their personhood. They become one dimensional. We stop thinking of people as three dimensional beings with independent lives. They have their own experiences, problems, and triumphs.

Its easy to do because we see people in one way. Typically, we have an image of what a person is like and only think of them in those terms. For example, for my readers who have friends with children, I would imagine when you are around your friends you only see them and experience them as your friend. If their children are not around you see them as you always have. However, if you are around them and their children, you will see them differently. They are going to be caring for their child. You see a different side to this person, adding depth to the person you know.

You see five people can know the same person but each of those five people knows that one person differently. To the point that one person can be seen as five different people. No one’s experience with anyone person is the same.

Furthermore, when we use derogatory names for people we are furthering the dehumanization for that person.  When you call a person an insult, racial slur, homophobic term, or other dehumanizing terms you are separating your ability to connect their humanness with that person.

Its as if you are looking at that singular person as a large group of people. Your thoughts and reactions to that one person are shaped by your biases for the collective group. That is very dangerous thinking. That line of thinking may lead to mob mentality. People in large numbers commit their actions because they feel validated, anonymous, and have shared biases. People will commit behavior they normally other wise wouldn’t do in large crowds. In a large crowd people lose their own sense of humanness furthering the disconnect between you and the other person.

There are four steps we can take to ensure that the devaluation of people can be stopped.

  1. Use the person’s name. Never just use pronouns. If you are upset with a person using their name is a subconscious way of reminding yourself you are dealing with another person. Also, not using insults will very much do the same thing.
  2. Never reduce someone to their illness, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion. People are so much more than those labels. They have opinions, emotions, thoughts, insecurities. People bleed when cut. They do everything you do when hurt.
  3. Understand that the way you see someone is not the way someone else sees them. They way you understand and know them is not the same way others know or understand them. This adds the dimensional aspect to a person.
  4. Respect an individual’s personhood. You are a person that demands to be heard, respected, and has desire to be understood. We should work every day to provide the same to other folks.

Humans are naturally ego syntonic. People are very selfish and immediately see how every situation is going to affect them before they move forward. Frankly, its a survival skills. Without it humans would not be alive as long as they have been. However, we have to deal with the consequences of that innate biological feature.

In the rising tension filled political, racial, religious climate we are experiencing, I believe it’s important to follow the above guidelines. We must not forget that the people we come into contact with are just as complex as we are. We need to recognize and respect their complexity. Let’s work towards a society that understands this.

This In Itself Is Humbling.