I was asked today if I believed that we were lacking empathy in society today?
I really don't. I believe that what we lack is understanding.
There are so many examples of peoples empathy in everyday life. People are empathetic online every day. Every like for a video that tugs at the heart strings is an empathetic response, even though it typically doesn't actually achieve anything or help anyone. However, when we see a tragedy on a global scale, we also see an outpouring of empathetic action. In response to the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, Australians alone donated in the realm of A$190 Million. That is a significant undertaking, and directly relates to the level of exposure and understanding that we, as a general public, had to the event.
Understanding can come in a variety of ways. Firstly, you can understand an issue as a result of being personally exposed to it. In the case of the tsunami, you may have known someone who was killed, injured or affected seriously by the event. We see so many people become passionate about causes that they have been exposed to on a personal level because empathetic response is high when you have felt what you believe other people are feeling. It's not unusual to become passionate about issues that you have seen up close. Seeing as I would never wish for more personal exposure to tragedy on anyone, this is not what I would consider the best way to seek out an increase in your knowledge.
Another way to understand an issue is to educate yourself. Seek out others who have had the unfortunate experience of disadvantage, illness or misfortune. Talk to people who are from different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Talk to people of the opposite gender, different age groups, different levels of education, family structure and sexuality and bring up your general understanding of other peoples lives. If you cannot speak directly to these people, speak to people who deal with these people or groups.
If you aren't inspired currently to do anything in particular, rather than look for causes to get involved with, look for knowledge and understanding of the challenges and difficulties faced by individuals, animals and the environment across the world and you will naturally be exposed to the areas towards which you will feel the most empathy. Bust myths, get good quality information, and no doubt at some point you will feel compelled to get involved.
Once you have found your areas of empathy... Stay tuned and I will hopefully help you make good decisions about how best to make a difference.
So at every opportunity you get this week, seek understanding. Empathy will soon follow.
Josh Reid Jones - Founder of The Just Be Nice Project and Odin Sports