When we are born, it’s all about us; our needs, our comfort, our sleep. Human babies have needs and they usually have their needs met by screaming their heads off, when they’re not met. Most people know this and I have mentioned it in past posts.
As we grow, one of the various roles of our parents is to teach us empathy. Empathy is defined as the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. I have taken the time to include the definition because many people behave as if they have no idea what this word is, what it means or how it is shown…. But I digress.
As we get older, we should learn that our own individual wants and needs are not all that matters in the world. We are not the center of the universe and all does not revolve around us. This is how you can learn to show love for you parents and family, and feel sadness for their ills and misfortunes. This, in turn, leads you to be able to comfort those around you. These emotions can then extend to people outside your social and familial circle, allowing you to feel the pain of strangers in your own city, your own country and even abroad.
These feelings of empathy can lead one to charity work, wanting to help the disabled, the less fortunate, the sick and the destitute. It could lead to participation in professions that aid others; doctors, nurses, teachers.
Empathy can lead other to give money out of their pocket, or food out of their kitchen, because sometimes money and food can run out just days before the next pay day. And rather than let another go hungry, people will give of themselves. Empathy allows you to identify with the misfortune of others, whether physical, mental, emotional or financial, because you understand that just a single flip of the cosmic coin and you might find yourself in the same position.
Unfortunately, empathy in our society is on the decline, a sharp and fast decline. It is rapidly being replaced by entitlement. Entitlement has a couple of definitions, but the one that I am focusing on is, the belief that one is inherently deserving of privileges or special treatment. There is a growing number of people in our society, who identifies with this definition. It is deeply associated with instant gratification. As children, we have no real sense of time. A child asks for a treat and mom says, in 20 minutes. Two minutes pass, and the child asks for it again. The child is reminded that 20 minutes hasn’t passed and they need to wait. Five more minutes pass and the child asks again. Having no sense of time, they don’t understand having to wait. The patience of waiting comes over time with proper instruction.
The problem is that teenagers and adults that are well past this stage of development, exhibit the same behavior. Not because they have no sense of time, but because they want what they want, when they want it and feel that they should not have to wait for anything, just because they’re them. They think that they are better or special. They think that their plights, problems and desires come ahead of everyone else’s. This sense of entitlement leads to a complete and total lack of empathy. They don’t know what it’s like to be sick without insurance, so the idea of needing public assistance for medical care is ludicrous. It’s costing them. They have never been disabled or associated with anyone with disabilities, so they don’t care for programs to help them. They’ve never been persecuted because of their race, sex or age, so they go so far as to believe that these things never happen, just because it has never happened to them.
Apathy is the bedfellow of entitlement and it is eating away at the conscience of society. It is a bigger problem than racism, classism, sexism, terrorism and money in the political system. It is a bigger problem, because if people don’t give a damn about other people, they are liable to do anything to them without remorse. We see it all the time. A kid gets drunk, gets in a car and runs over people on the side of the road, killing them. He gets house arrest and even after a light sentence, he breaks his probation and tries to flee the country. His life is more important than the lives he took. A police officer pepper sprays peaceful protesters and ends up suing for emotional trauma. The supposed Democratic Party sabotages the campaign of one of their own; one who cared for the rights of all people, rich, working and poor, in favor of someone who has the interests of those who already have enough over those who barely have anything.
Empathy has always been a rather ethereal, wispy concept, sometimes slipping right through the fingers, but from time to time in the history of our country, we, as a society, have been able to grip it firmly and lift each other up; but it was never easy. It took hard work and sacrifice, pain and death. But now, empathy can’t even be seen floating on the winds. More often than not, we are every man for themselves and to hell with the rest.
What can we do?
Well, we could just be better, but that takes effort that the apathetic and entitled don’t want to exert. So, it’s up to us who give a damn, to be mindful and vigilant and take every opportunity to inspire a change in our world; one conversation, one phone call, one post; one vote at a time. Taking these strides may change things from the smallest interaction between you and a co-worker to the world stage which governs our society. Close your eyes and for once, picture yourself in someone else’s shoes. Train yourself, as we should train our children; like we used to train our children, to be patient, understanding and kind. Bullying children turn into bullying adults; but adults can choose to be better, they just have to want it be better.