My father sent me a picture of a page out of the book What Made Maddy Run yesterday. The succinct paragraphs captured the imperative nature of empathy. The author writes how crucial the trait is amongst individuals, but how scarce its presence has become. The direct quote is: “College kids are 40 percent less empathetic than they were just twenty years before.” This alarming statistic has remained in my mind since my brief discussion with my father.
Why is this the case? In order to halt the downwards sloping trend shouldn’t we be discussing the origins of empathy?
There are so many questions to ask: What makes someone empathetic? Is it a combination of their experiences and company? Is it a result of teachings? Can it even be taught? I have been pondering these questions throughout the week.
While this unfortunate change in college kids did come as a surprise to me, I never questioned the statement’s validity. In fact, throughout my adolescence and young adulthood I have always found empathetic friends difficult to come across and essential to keep. Without empathy, relationships are vapid. Without a true desire to feel the emotions of another, people fail to stray far from anyone but themselves. This creates a population of self-absorbed individuals. Worlds where all of one’s thoughts revolve around personal wants and gains. Is this the fulfilling life we are all striving to live?
So what is the solution? Is there even one?
Perhaps there isn’t a clear-cut solution to this growing concern, but there must be factors to analyze, factors that led us here. Maybe I’m overly optimistic but I believe we are all innately empathetic. As humans we are born with a desire to comfort those around us. As we grow within ourselves, we are faced with decisions. These decisions determine how we treat people. If we are placed in uninspiring environments during moments of discovery, we may struggle to see beyond ourselves later in life. If we are constantly surrounded by people who refrain from being engaged and practicing curiosity, we lack exposure to these aspects of life. In summary we miss out on the opportunity to develop this trait and strengthen it.
I use the words “moments of discovery,” but these occurrences may not be as picturesque as they sound. In fact I believe conflict and hardship are tremendous contributors to the exploration of the self. It is during these times one is forced to feel and experience raw emotions. If these emotions are unpleasant ones, they can later recall the feeling and relate to others who may be encountering similar emotions.
Correspondingly, if the moment is a pleasant one, an individual may work to ignite the same feelings amongst his or her peers. Either way the individual has an opportunity to walk away from the hardship having gained a remarkable gift, and that is the gift of being relatable.
Everyone in this world wants to feel understood. I’d argue there is no worse feeling than isolation. If you alone hold the potential to prevent that feeling from occurring or reoccurring in someone, isn’t that the essence of power? Empathy does not happen overnight. It takes time, it takes practice and it takes effort. But any amount of pain that goes into the development of the trait is counteracted by the potential the outcome holds and never fails to deliver.
Everyone in this world wants to feel understood. I’d argue there is no worse feeling than the feeling of isolation. If you alone hold the potential to prevent that feeling from occurring or reoccurring in someone, isn’t that the essence of power?
Empathy does not happen overnight. It takes time, it takes practice and it takes effort. But any amount of pain that goes into the development of the trait, is counteracted by the potential the outcome holds and never fails to deliver.