“Power comes not from the barrel of a gun, but from one’s awareness of his or her own cultural strength and the unlimited capacity to empathize with, feel for, care, and love one’s brothers and sisters.” – Addison Gayle, Jr.
2016 has been called many things, most of them negative and rightly so. This was the year that stripped us of beloved artists, robbed the U.S. of its hope for its first female president and nationally exposed the roiling underbelly of racism, sexism, and xenophobia that many Americans still call patriotism.
It’s understandable that one can become numb to this seemingly constant barrage of horrific news, day in and day out. That is totally normal and I’m here to tell you that’s ok – don’t beat yourself up over wanting to look away from these reports and images. Taking a break to expose your mind to something uplifting and light can be a salve for the weary mind and soul. Yes, I’m telling you those cute cat videos are something that is 100% necessary for your mental health.
But before we all end up staring into our phones at 3am after hours of animals sneezing videos, we need to also recognize that the echo chambers we’ve built around ourselves have served as protection from many of the horrors that took us by surprise this year. While David Bowie’s passing and transformation into stardust was something out of our control, the “social siloing” we create for ourselves on Twitter, Facebook, and the like made many of this year’s occurrences seem like impossibilities is something we can change. When your social media feeds likely just reverberate the same thoughts and ideas you have, it can seem like more folks ascribe to your way of thinking, are voting similarly, and treating other human beings in the same way you do.
But why should we have to do all the work, many have asked? Why do we need to listen and reflect? Empathy from you doesn’t just benefit the person you’re with, it can benefit you, as well. Steering your mind away from objectifying an individual helps you keep their humanity at the forefront. Objectifying people deliberately can distance us from the opposing party and keep the discomfort empathy can bring at bay. Associating people with groups can be a slippery slope, making it easy for us to forget the individual, their stories, and their nuanced positions. Ultimately, they are bringing their history, ideals, and hopes to the table, just like you.