I’ve grown really, really tired of the internet lately, which is something I never thought I’d consider a possibility in my lifetime since I don’t think I’ve gone a single day without using the internet once I had my first computer. It’s just so different these days.
It’s how we read our news. We get it in the morning when we’re still in bed or in a breaking news notification on our phones or in our Twitter feeds when we’re trying to figure out how #NuggsForCarter is moving along or we see our twice removed fourth cousin sharing a link from some AllConservativeAllTheTime website. And it’s everywhere and we can’t get away from it unless you smash our phone with a sledgehammer and lock ourselves in a small wooden shanty that doesn’t have electricity or access for anyone else to talk to you the entire time you’re in there. That’s not even possible, you know?
It’s how you keep in touch with pretty much everyone. Gone are the days of forwarding jokes to everyone in your email address book or sending a dollar to 10 different people with the hopes of everyone in the world sending you a dollar back making you a hundredaire. Now everyone shares 18 memes a day and Nigerian princes are contacting all of us so they can wire us millions of dollars once we send them all of our personal identification information. We’re still equally as annoyed and disappointed in these situations, so I guess not too much has changed since then.
What’s the biggest change? Everyone can say everything they want all of the time without any regard of how it might be perceived and they typically do it without thinking because they have the ability and the tools to do it right that very second. If we don’t do it right that very second, someone else might say it or do it and then they’ll get all the credit for it. Feelings don’t usually matter. And if they do, it’s not until after someone’s said, “hey, you’re kind of being a dick”, and then someone gets all defensive and has to explain what they really meant or maybe they don’t because, hey, it’s not like you really have to look at that person in the face and say those things, right?
Everyone has an opinion and their opinion is pretty much always right, of course. Everyone has advice for you all the time and it doesn’t matter if you ask for it. That’s expected of your great aunt or your grandma, but they’ll tell you something to your face and they’ve earned the right to share those opinions with you. Janet from down the street, Becky with the hair that you went to school with in 7th grade or Jackhole McGee, who’s some friend of a friend that you forgot you were even connected to on social media are pretty much all the same. They don’t see you regularly, but they still know ALL OF THE THINGS in your life, so they will provide advice and opinions whether or not you shove a quarter in or not. And it’s not always nice. They don’t always think about what they’re hammering out on their phone while they’re in the checkout line at Target, but they don’t hesitate to post it before they read through it enough to realize they’re being a dick and they sure don’t pause for a second to see if what they have to say really applies to them.
Empathy is this thing. It’s a really, really, really valuable thing and we should all try to do more of that today, this month, this year and pretty much forever. But it’s not instant and it’s not natural. It requires awareness and thought and intent. We go too fast every single day to think we can show empathy without putting intention behind it. Let me give you an example:
Standard Facebook post: My 2 year old just won’t eat his vegetables. We offer them to him at every meal, but he just flat out refuses to swallow anything that’s grown from a plant. We’re not making special meals for him, so he’ll eventually either figure it out or just be hungry.
Pretty standard Facebook responses might include: Have you tried smoothies? You should be careful because he might get scurvy. He’s going to be fat. His bones are going to fall apart. He’s going to go blind. Have you tried this special cookbook that tells you how to puree shit and sneak into every single recipe that you eat?
All the Facebook response people really want: Man, that sucks – I totally get it and here’s what worked for our situation. We had the same thing happened at our house and it took awhile, but we eventually found out he liked ________.
That second group of answers? That’s how empathy works.
Merriam Webster explains it pretty well, too: “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
So there you go. My challenge to you is 1) understand what empathy means and 2) show it someone. Show it to everyone. Everyone’s pretty tender right now and you don’t always know what’s going on in someone else’s life just because you haven’t read it on Facebook. Golden rule shit here, okay? Get that part under wraps and then this empathy thing is going to come a little easier. People like to feel like they’re heard and they’re listened to. I get that we’re all busy thinking about how we can relate our lives to their story, but that’s not always what they want.
There’s a Right Way and a Wrong Way to Do Empathy is a really great article you should read if you’re sitting there fuming because you think this post is about you. This is the best part of the article: “…perhaps it’s time we start thinking about it a little differently, focusing on what the other person is going through without inserting our hypothetical selves into the same situation.” This applies for the people you live with, the people you see every day and the people you haven’t seen for six million years. It applies to your co-workers and the random stranger you see at the splash pad who just accidentally sprayed suntan lotion in your face.
We’re all here in this whole life thing together. We should be nice to each other while we’re here.
These flowers are my grandma’s. They’re related to this post because she’s the nicest person in the world. She’s good at it and I’m sure it’s from years and years of practice. That means we’ve all got a lot of work to do.