If I could ask you to prescribe one thing to help our conflict-laden world, what would it be?
I’m honestly frightened right now.
Looking at the news, I see stories of fighting and conflicts everywhere. Gaza and Israel are still trading rocket fire at the cost of thousands of lives. ISIS is on a brutal rampage through Iraq, killing thousands in barbaric ways. Even in peace-loving Malaysia, a group of of protestors recently turned rowdy and violent at a McDonald’s — throwing objects, rattling the doors and spewing verbal abuse.
If I could, I’d prescribe a healthy dose of empathy for everyone. I think the world needs it.
What is Empathy?
Empathy is commonly confused with sympathy, but it goes much deeper than sympathy.
In a nutshell, sympathy is “I feel sorry for you”.
Empathy is “I understand how terrible you feel. When the rights of my people were stepped on, it made me feel angry and hateful too.”
How does it help us prevent or resolve conflicts?
Think about the last time you really hated someone. Perhaps it’s Ronald McDonald. Or your ex-boyfriend. Or your bitchy colleague.
Whenever there’s conflict, it’s natural to see things exclusively from one’s own perspective. Did you try to see your enemy’s point of view as well? Or were you too blinded by hate and egoism?
“What? Those people are monsters. They are clearly in the wrong. And you expect me to try to understand their point of view?”
Precisely. Because they’re people too. And you’ll never have peace until you understand their motivations and feelings.
As the old saying goes:
Never judge a man, until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes
Let’s look at the example of a violent protestor group harassing the unfortunate McDonald’s workers.
Disclaimer: I have no issue with people peacefully boycotting or demonstrating anything. I believe in free economy and peaceful assembly. Everyone and anyone should be able to buy or sell whatever they choose.
(I myself have boycotted McDonald’s for a long time, in honor of a below-18-percent-fat body)
But surely the line is crossed when innocent Malaysians are intimidated, harassed and threatened.
Make no mistake — those disruptive protestors are offenders. But if we view them with just plain hatred, what are the long-term effects? If we just call them names and punish them severely — they become “martyrs” for their fellow uninformed comrades. Who view them as heroes.
And the cycle of hatred just goes on.
No, instead we have to help them with empathy. We too can understand their pain for the people in Gaza. How they want a channel to express their anger and frustration. And how they want to make a difference in whatever way they can.
They just didn’t know how to — and crossed the line.
Should we punish them for their actions in disrupting public harmony and safety? Yes. But above all, we need to educate them on better ways to support the besieged Palestinians.
It doesn’t mean we don’t deal with problems. It doesn’t mean we condone evil acts. It just means we try to understand other people’s point of view, and in doing so — help them to understand ours. And teach them there are better ways of doing things.
Empathy in Our Personal Relationships
Empathy is just as important in our deepest, closest relationships.
Need a trump card when dealing with conflicts in your relationship? Learn to empathize.
I’ll give you a classic example of conflicts in male-female relationships.
Back when I was a clueless 20-something year old, my ex-girlfriend would often tell me about all the negative things that happened to her. Now, I don’t like negativity. I don’t like drama either. As you can imagine, it wasn’t pleasant listening for me.
Every time I sat through these “sharing” sessions, all that was going on in my head was “If you behave like that, you’re never going to fix your problems. Listen to my solution so you can get better.”
On the other hand, all she really wanted was a listening ear. But because I had no empathy, I never tried to see things from her point of view, or try to understand her feelings. Instead, I judged her.
So guys, here’s one of the most important lessons you’ll ever learn when dealing with women. Most times, when your partner comes to talk to you about things that aren’t going well, all she wants is for you to:
- Listen, without judging
- Empathize (try to understand how you would feel in the same situation)
- Tell her that she’s not crazy, weird or a bitch
- Hug her
- Tell her things are going to be OK
And ladies, whenever you talk to your man about your problems, understand that the natural male response to it is “How am I going to help her fix this?”. You can help him understand better by gently letting him know, “I don’t need you to fix anything dear. I just want you to listen and comfort me.”
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Now there’s obviously a huge difference of magnitude between a personal conflict with your girlfriend, a mob of violent protestors, and a barbaric army beheading children. Again, I’m not saying that crimes should not be punished.
Empathy doesn’t mean we should ignore wrongdoing. Rather, it helps us understand why people can go wrong. So we can genuinely tackle the root causes, instead of just more conflict, fighting and death.
In an ideal world, everyone would just get along despite differences of opinion, race and religion. Ours will never be completely perfect, but I know some empathy would definitely help.
It’s helped me in my relationships. It’ll definitely help in bridging our national racial prejudices.
And who knows, perhaps even if the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been raised with empathy instead of aggression, love instead of hate — the world would be a kinder place today.
The original version of this article originally appeared at Emmagem.
Pic Credit: “White Doves at the Blue Mosque (5778806606)” by Peretz Partensky