Have I lost my empathy?

I connected so much with the article ‘When do medical students lose their empathy?’ found here – http://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2013/10/medical-students-lose-empathy.html- that I thought I’d start writing on empathy and see where my thoughts take me. As I read the article above I realized, once again, that the degree to with I empathize or feel connected to situations is largely determined by my life experiences. Bad tidings from Paris a few weeks ago sent the world into shock. ‘Not again!’  We all screamed, vocally or internally. However, in a period of self-reflection, I realized that I wasn’t really as concerned as I normally would when I was younger. When did I become so cold I reasoned? I kept going back and forth in my mind until I realized that the problem was that I had become used to such news. I’ve constantly heard similar news every week or so from my home country for the past four years. The violence being unleashed by terrorists today is a far cry from my experience growing up in Nigeria, even under tyrannical military dictatorships. Even under the military regime, there was peace as the advent of the military was a response to a turbulent political climate that plunged the country into a brief civil war in the 70s. The once peaceful country that I love has now become a hotbed of religious terrorism. And as my environment changed, so did I. When I got to the US five years ago, one of the first real shocks I had as I traversed Brooklyn, Upper East Side Manhattan and Harlem was the sheer number of homeless folks living in New York City. I thought, ‘surely these people are lazy’. ‘How can one be homeless in the land of opportunities?’. My views had since changed.

Unless we put ourselves in the shoes of those we interact with, we will never fully understand people and extend to them the hand of brotherhood that binds us all as humans. Racism is a big issue in America today and people with polarizing views are finding it more difficult to live with one another. But I think that things will be much better if we put ourselves in the shoes of those different from us. If white, imagine yourself black and if black, imagine yourself white or Native American or Asian. If republican, imagine yourself democrat. If instructor, imagine yourself student. Interact with people different from you. Volunteer at homeless shelters and hear the stories, first hand, of those that have been a little less fortunate that you are. Anyone can be anything and though we’re all different, interpersonal relations (such as in an instructor/student environment) requires that we exhibit a personal interest, connection or, dare I say, empathy with people and we can’t do this effectively unless we put ourselves in other people’s shoes.

“Always put yourself in others’ shoes. If you feel that it hurts you, it probably hurts the other person, too.” ― Rachel Grady

4 thoughts on “Have I lost my empathy?”

  1. What an important and powerful reminder, Akin. We humans are a diverse and interesting lot. Appreciating that fact by recognizing the validity of different perspectives and experiences keeps us humble as individuals and helps cultivate the compassion and empathy we badly need if we are going to get this broken world to a better place. Thank you for this.

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