A month we’ve been locked down here. Going out to get essentials, supplies to fix up the house and yard, and curbside pickup to support small businesses. Life is not normal in here or out there. Sure, I have more time at home since I’m not commuting, but my mind struggles to concentrate on anything creative. We can still go out to the store, but we try to make it quick, we have to wear masks, and wait in lines. Talking to people seems weird, because you can’t see their face. Everyone is starting to look the same, just nervous eyes above cloth masks. Everyone dealing with the same uncertainty, sometimes fear.
It’s not always the same fear. That woman may be wondering if her job will still be there when this is over. That man, scared his mother will get sick, being part of the high risk group. That child, whose life is already confusing, is terrified of this experience that they don’t understand. Some people are worried about whether the economy will be able to recover, and if we’re headed for a longer lasting disaster, and others are afraid because none of the information we’re getting makes any sense. Conflicting numbers, opinions, reports, and so on. And, on top of it all, people are turning on each other on social media. The world is already ugly, and people are being ugly to each other because they don’t all have the same fears.
Whose fears are more legitimate? Why do some people feel like they get to decide that? Of course we feel like our fears are more legitimate, but why do so many lack empathy? That’s what empathy is? Recognizing, despite our own needs, desires, fears, that other people have different ones, and that’s all right. Watching someone, standing outside, taking a video of protesters standing outside, and calling them wrong? You’re outside too! Sure, you have fears, but so do they! The people sharing those videos on social media, “See, these people are nuts!”, are they? Did you leave the house to enter a crowd of people to buy something this week? Are you certain you didn’t pick up a bug while you were out there?
Empathy is not passive. It’s something you need to be conscious of, and practice. It’s realizing that everyone out there is going through something, and even if you don’t know that person, or like that person, realizing that for them, their fears and worries are just as legitimate as your own. It’s not sympathy. You don’t have to agree with them. But when you diminish their fears, or ridicule their concerns, you say that you do not value them as human beings.
Why is this all in a book blog/newsletter? Because empathy is the basis for everything we do. As a writer, I have to empathize with my potential audience, and my characters. As readers, you have to be able to empathize with the author, and the characters they create. Imagine the worlds you’d miss, the adventures lost, if we went through life shut off from everyone we didn’t agree with. Imagine the characters lost to history, and the lessons they teach, if we aren’t able to at least see what it is they’re going through. It’s easy to cast empathy aside, just like it’s easy to hate. It requires patience, understanding, and work to empathize with others. You have to put aside yourself for a minute, and imagine what it’s like to be someone else. It’s a skill, a muscle you have to work at. Like Maya said, we are more alike than unalike. We lose so much of the world when we forget that.