My husband and I were talking yesterday about why two US Supreme Court decisions which have very little impact upon our lives meant so much to us both on a deeply personal level. He, being the incredibly poetic man that he is, quipped—‘you cry tears of joy because you have empathy’.
I don’t know if it is that, or simply that I am delighted for those individuals whom I adore who finally may marry whom they love and wish to spend their lives. That isn’t the case for every same-sex couple I know — in the US or elsewhere. But, it is slowly becoming a reality as we chip away at archaic notions of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m not sure if my own beliefs surrounding the rights of LGBTQI stem from a sense of empathy or that there is simply nothing wrong with loving who you love. And, at the end of the day, as long as there is no lasting emotional or physical harm to either individual, it’s really no one else’s business.
But, what of empathy? What if we all worked harder to be a little more empathetic towards those with whom we only share differences?
Most likely, we’d find that we aren’t really that different and we share more than one characteristic. More than one ambition or hope overlaps even the most disparate pair. Or, perhaps, we simply talk about our differences using a language (or vernacular) which neither understands.
In my ‘day job’, an endless capacity for empathy pervades those who take up the difficult task of working with some of society’s ‘least desirable’ (as defined by some elite class). Typically, these are drug users, prisoners, sex workers, homeless, etc. Poverty, disease and an enduring suffering combined with a sense of hopelessness and self-loathing on unimaginable scales for most mortals greet many. Yet, in all of it, there is hope. There is acceptance. And, yes, there is love. We envision a world where we all are accepted and our rights as humans are acknowledged and upheld regardless of our individual circumstance. Human rights are human rights and they should be granted and accessible to all. That is, I don’t think anyone takes up this work without the understanding that, at the end of the day, we are all equal individuals entitled to the same opportunities and chances to fulfill our dreams. It doesn’t matter what label you attach to us; we’re all just people. We are all worthy.
Personally, I’d like to think that my own capacity for empathy helps shape all of my actions, both as an individual and in what I do for a ‘living’. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone nor is it a reality in my little utopian existence. Likewise, there is some debate about how much empathy may aide us in making the world that little bit better.
Whether its naivete, idealism or simply a pipe dream, there are moments when I am less empathetic to others, and that is something which I’ll strive to change. It may help. It may not. But, it certainly doesn’t hurt anyone to try it out.