Three Simple Questions on the Path to Empathy.

I read once that the first thought you have when you look at someone is what you were taught to think. The second thought you have is what you really think, and represents the kind of person you are or want to be.

I think that behaviours, opinions, and ideas can be re-learnt, changed or untaught if people allow themselves the chance. People aren’t who they were yesterday, they’re the person they want to be tomorrow.

A lot of my pre-learnt attitudes, assumptions and opinions have been challenged as I get older. I think this is one of the most important things that has come out of social media as it is today; it’s given a voice to people who might not have had one before. It’s given people the chance to educate themselves outside of what their immediate circle of family, friends, education professionals and news sources has taught them. It’s allowed people to more easily discover the point of view of others, empathise with them and see within themselves how their own attitudes, opinions and behaviours may be problematic.

Along with social media giving a voice to people who may not have had one before, it’s also given a megaphone to people who are close-minded, and completely lacking in empathy for people worse off then they are. I’m not saying these people don’t deserve a voice as well; everyone is entitled to their opinions. The problem I have, is the dismissive attitude I’ve witnessed from such people.

Despite women explaining that catcalling makes them uncomfortable and afraid, they’ll sit there and say it’s not harassment and women should take it as a compliment. Despite POC’s explaining why cultural appropriation isn’t a laughing matter, they’ll shrug it off and say it’s all in good fun.

So to these people I have a request. Before you dismiss the opinion, feelings and experiences of someone, ask yourself these three simple questions:

  1. Am I that person?

No, you aren’t. Therefore you don’t know what they’ve been through, and can’t tell them their experiences are wrong.

  1. Am I like that person?

Probably not, otherwise you wouldn’t be considering dismissing their experiences. And that means you can’t tell that person their experiences are wrong.

  1. Is someone I know like that person?

Probably! Chances are, you probably know someone who has experienced what you’re about to dismiss. But that doesn’t mean you know what they’ve been through and can tell them their experiences are wrong.

Me, I’m not an authority on anything, except being a white straight middle class woman. I can talk about the problems I’ve faced being female, but that’s it; I haven’t experienced racism or homophobia or persecution or poverty. I can think those things are bad, (or good) and have an opinion on them but at the end of the day, my opinion is second to the opinion of the people who are those things.

What I can do is listen, and accept that there are people in the world who experience it differently to me, and that means I can’t tell them what their experiences do and do not mean, because I haven’t experienced them.

I can disagree with what they’re saying, but I can’t dismiss what they felt. And maybe, by listening, I can eventually understand and be a better person for it.

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I can tell you about learning to Trust Your Crazy Place though…

Or share my struggles with anxiety.

And I can certainly tell you that Ladies Don’t Send Nudes.

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