Thursday, January 26, 2017


An interesting concept has made the rounds of the internet lately. People have begun to notice that the “Facebook algorithm” determines the content we see online. The programs, designed to please us, track what we view, what we like, and what we comment on, then give us more of it. We then receive a narrower and narrower stream of input, all of which confirms our feelings, our opinions, and our world view.

In other words, we only hear what we sympathize with.

A lot of us have lost track of the distinction, so here’s a refresher—to sympathize means to be in keeping, accord, or harmony with; to share in suffering or grief with; or to be in sympathy intellectually.

It’s a like-attracts-like kind of relationship.

I’m voting for empathy from here on out. Be on guard against anyone who promotes conflict, question anyone who says “others” are to blame, and overthrow those marketing algorithms that promote sameness. Instead, empathize with real human beings of all kinds.

And here’s our refresher on empathy, which is the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either in the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

In other words (because that’s a lot of words), having empathy means you can put yourself in the place of someone entirely different than you without having their point of view spelled out for you.

It’s an act that builds bridges between people who are not alike.

To be even more direct, sympathy says, “You have the same pain I do. I get that,” but, conversely, leaves out the pain of others, “Your pain is not my pain.” Empathy says, “I see your pain. I’ve known pain. All pain sucks. I’m sorry for your pain, my friend.”

What if, rather than a competition or a barrier, our pains, unique though they may be, became a bridge? What if we use empathy to build that bridge?

I belong to a segment of society once considered property to be disposed of at another’s whim, with no legal standing, no right to own property, no vote, no mention in the Declaration of Independence. We’ve only recently won freedom from those bonds, yet we are still dismissed, marginalized, judged by our appearance. I may not be more likely to be killed by police because of my body, but I’m more likely to be killed by my partner.

I’m not saying this makes my fears or pains more or stronger or even the same as anyone else’s. They do make me empathetic. They do make me yearn—and act--for a world where no one feels “other” in any degree, for any reason.

I heard a lot of bigoted talk growing up, some directed toward groups that included me, but most of it directed toward people other than me. Do you know what I learned then? I learned to fear being different, to avoid being “other.” I saw that my safety lay in staying within the circle of sympathy.

And do you know what my mature, adult response to that is? No. I choose empathy. I choose to see pain in another’s eyes and say, “I see your pain. I’ve known pain. All pain sucks. I’m sorry for your pain, my friend.”

I choose to yearn—and act—for a world where no one is other.

We are all so weird and wonderful and unique.

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