Thoughts about Empathy on April Fools Day

Empathy is a concept that enjoys ( or suffers from ) many definitions. It is, in a very broad sense, defined as the capacity to recognize and, to some extent, share feelings that are being experienced by another person.

“Empathy depends not only on one’s ability to identify someone else’s emotions but also on one’s capacity to put oneself in the other person’s place and to experience an appropriate emotional response” Charles G. Morris

In times where the news consists primarily of rapid fire reports that detail the collective and individual suffering of people across the globe. It is not uncommon for us to see in just a few short minutes:

* The wrath of Japan’s Tsunami

* Airstrikes in Libya

* Accounts of Genocide

We are often attracted to the drama of these natural disasters, revolts, warfare and atrocities. The news coverage highlights what can be covered in media bites that fit the format. If we are disturbed by a particular story, it is very easy for us to hit mute, turn the channel or simply press off. We can disconnect ourselves from the reality immediately. We play our own version of an April fools joke on ourselves. It is so easy to do. It is fast, and effective. We filter our intake, much as we do with junk mail, spam and the like.

What is easily forgotten, is that we “fool” ourselves to thinking that these stories cease to exist because the screen is black. Of course, they are not. The people who are affected by all of these quite traumatic events are still suffering with the reality of their life when the cameras are off. The loss of life, limb, personal safety, and liberty continues.

“The fool speaks, the wise man listens” — African proverb

So, on a day where we may share a trick or two with friends and family, let’s not forget that the world has become a place of great personal suffering and strife for many people, each with a story to be told. Let’s stop fooling ourselves into thinking that the suffering of others is not, in some sense, ours as well.

For, it is through empathy, not apathy, that we can make a difference in the lives of others, one at a time.

The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems. Mohandas Gandhi