After my unpopular Simone Biles opinion (to summarize, I didn't understand and I don't understand why my lack of understanding would somehow make me a racist or an anti-vaxxer, more on that later), I've thought a lot today about where empathy comes from.
My first thought was that I should be sure I actually know the definition of empathy. I am not trying to say that I don't know what empathy means--I am just trying my hand at a writer's humility.Anyway, empathy is:
the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
In my searching, I discovered that there are three types of empathy: cognitive, emotional and compassionate. Cognitive is knowing how someone feels. Emotional is feeling those feelings along with them. Compassionate is understanding and feeling moved to help.
Regardless of the type of empathy we experience, it seems to me that empathy can only come from a place of communication and understanding. And truly, I think you can be empathic to someone's plight or struggle, without living that particular truth or struggle. And we all come from different places--our personalities and our ways of moving through the world guiding which sort of empathy we have. I tend to think that I am not emotionally empathetic--but cognitive and compassionate, absolutely.
Today, my inbox and texts and feeds were filled with Simone Biles content. There were several memes and pieces that equating not agreeing or understanding with Simone's decision to withdraw from the Olympics mid-competition, to being a racist, an anti-vaxxer and a conservative pundit.
To me, this is utterly ridiculous, inflammatory and the equivalent of a temper tantrum. Is it that if we don't share the same kind of empathy that we are automatically the worst things you can think of? Or because some of the people who attacked Simone are giant internet bullies that makes anyone who does not align with her a horrible person?
People are not game pieces to be sorted into different piles based on one characteristic.
I am not a racist. And I am absolutely not an anti-vaxxer and while some members of my extended family would rejoice over me becoming a conservative pundit, I am very much the opposite.
A few people shared a Decision Tree piece from McSweeney's. It is absolutely the most horrible, disgusting, belittling and most bullshit thing I've seen in a while.
You can read it here (unfortunately).
I think this Decision Tree is gross, frankly. I think this bizarre world where our thoughts about one issue determine our entire ideology is dangerous and continues to divide our world, putting us at odds with our neighbors. This type of thinking is the root of war and strife-it is inflexible, inflammatory and destroys the places where empathy comes from.
I say this with humility: I've have seen some of the worst things a human being can see. I have experienced horrors beyond anything I ever imagined. I get struggle; but I do not get all struggles. And the only way I will ever understand other struggles is through understanding--and understanding comes from discussion and discussion only happens when people feel safe to speak their differing opinions.
Empathy comes from unpopular opinions. It comes from being able to share those unpopular opinions, being able to discuss them and being open to hearing them. It comes from being willing to change your mind and to express your mind. It comes from a place of openness--it is something we can work to breed in others, as much as we work to breed in ourselves.