There are some virtues of life that I always try to practice. I often find myself focusing more on increasing my patience or self-control. This past weekend, I’ve revisited a virtue that I have noticed myself not paying attention to: Empathy.
I practice it, or at least I think so. When someone shares a very tragic story, I try my best to listen and “feel” what they are feeling. When I see a less fortunate person, I try my best to acknowledge their presence, their struggles, and if I can help them at that present moment, by all means I will give up some time and try to understand their difficult circumstances.
But in my experience with empathy, I’ve learned that there’s one important factor that I’ve been ignoring. Often times, empathy is regarded as one of the traits that should be practiced because it is hard to accomplish and most of all, difficult to really measure whether or not someone really understands the other person’s experiences. Already, sharing one’s emotions and thoughts about a particularly sensitive experience places the speaker in a very vulnerable position. Sharing and taking down barriers takes courage, time, and the ability to make peace with the possibility or getting shunned or misunderstood.
With that said, the ones practicing empathy need to do more than just listen and tell the individual that they understand. First, the harsh truth is these personal, in-depth stories of people’s lives are indeed hard to understand. For one, all the experiences are unique and to simply say “we understand,” will not fix anything or make things easier. If we were to explore this in subject of being an ally, an example would be that, I as an immigrant Asian will never truly understand what it is like to be an African American who was born and raised in American. Or a heterosexual individual may never have that same experience of facing oppression such as the queer community. The list goes on and on.
Even though this issue may be a difficult problem to overcome, individuals should continue to be proactive in empathizing with others, no matter how many differences are established. I believe that the privileged have the responsibility of hearing the experiences of the oppressed, and even if they don’t understand or been through a single component of the oppressed, the main purpose is to listen, acknowledge, and share these experiences with those who has not been exposed yet. Every personal stories matter, so when a person embraces bravery to share his or her thoughts and feelings, empathize by being honest with yourself and with them on their experiences.
by NAY MINTIN
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