Empathy

By Jim Koury, Editor, Diversity Rules Magazine
© 2013 Diversity Rules Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.
www.diversityrulesmagazine.com

jrk_color[2] There are many times where we have a tendency to look upon another person’s trials and tribulations in a sympathetic manner.  We acknowledge the emotional hardships of another and provide support and comfort.  In many instances, being sympathetic is perceived to be the only viable response since we have no real understanding of what someone else may be going through, never having experienced a particular situation ourselves.

A more effective manner by which to truly understand what a person is experiencing is to have empathy for that person and what they are going through.  We are able to assist someone with an issue or problem they are facing more substantively if we can understand what a person is feeling because we have experienced the same situation and/or have the ability to put ourselves in their shoes.  Being empathetic takes more effort and requires us to step outside of our personal paradigms and look at a situation through someone else’s eyes while basing our response to their issue on our own experiences.

Common situations we have all experienced such as death of a loved one, loss of a beloved pet, or some other common occurrence easily provides an opportunity to comfort someone else in an empathetic way.  More difficult situations such as losing a child prematurely or cancer may be much more difficult situations by which to comfort someone in an empathetic fashion since the same personal experience may not exist.  However, if we take that extra step and put ourselves in those situations and imagine how we would feel if we were experiencing a very difficult situation still accords an opportunity for us to comfort empathetically in addition to sympathetically.  In these instances, it is clearly an individual choice to take that extra step and to try to more fully comprehend a particular situation.

As a queer individual, it is very easy for me to help someone in the closet deal with their issues of coming out since I have obviously personally agonized over the same feelings of doubt, fear and degraded self-esteem.  It is quite easy to put myself in someone else’s shoes and give advice and comfort from a personal perspective.

There are those instances where I have felt somewhat inadequate to assist and have referred people to others who have more experience with a particular issue, such as giving empathetic support to a married man or woman who is queer in a straight relationship where they have begun to deal with the issues of coming out and leaving the relationship.  Having never been in that situation, it is clearly a difficult thing for me to help someone fully understand the issues and consequences of extricating themselves from a situation such as this.  I can only offer support and encouragement to them to make the decision that they are most comfortable with and ask their permission to have a person who has gone through such a dramatic experience contact them.

It saddens me when those in the queer community choose to not empathetically help someone else or look upon others in their own community with disdain, contempt and prejudice for whatever reason.  It would seem logical that those in the queer community would be more accepting of others, be less judgmental and willing to assist when needed in very emotionally challenged situations.  Unfortunately this is not the case.

When one looks at this further, this phenomenon is something that goes beyond the gay/straight realm… it is a function of human nature. As we have to deal with prejudice from without we must also from within the queer community.  It is just as challenging for many within our community to empathetically help others due to prejudices and stereotypes that are prevalent in society in a much broader sense.

I personally believe that minority groups and others that have been persecuted have an inherent responsibility to act in a more exemplary fashion and have a higher degree of empathy for others because of their minority and/or persecuted status.  To believe otherwise is a cop out and does not bode well for society and moving humanity forward to a higher awareness of those around us and of differences in people.

I end with a challenge; will you decide to be more empathetic and take the initiative to better understand your fellow human beings by walking in their shoes or will you continue to simply express sympathy and not really delve into the dynamics of another person’s situation to help them better understand what is happening to them.  Being the eternal optimist I am, I will continue to hope for the former.

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