It’s a word I’ve been thinking about lately.
Simply put empathy means to understand someone’s feelings. When you empathize with someone, you’re able to put yourself in his or her shoes and understand that person’s emotions.
Recently, I read an article about the 18-year-old African teen who called the police on George Floyd. Only in this country for a year, the young man did what he was instructed was the right thing to do. Now, we know the outcome of that call, but the young man didn’t have the same understanding of police and community relations as it relates to African Americans as someone native born or here for a number of years. He’s also young and naïve, and all of that makes it easy to understand why he made the choice he did.
The article also interviewed the store owners and went into detail about their relationship with the community and how the Palestinian American family came to own the store. The article didn’t pretend there aren’t tensions between Arab convenience store owners and their Black customers; however, it did a good job of showing the nuances instead of painting either side with a broad brush of black and white instead of gray.
That’s the thing about people; we’re all shades of gray. Most of us aren’t this or that. We’re not one way or another. We’re usually full of contradictions.
As I read the article, I kept thinking about how this one fateful day turned the lives of everyone involved and their family members upside down. I thought about how much pain and anguish the young man who called the cops must be in every day. I thought about how the store owners are just trying to make a living like everyone else and the murder of George Floyd has forever tarnished their image and could cost them their livelihood. I thought about the community members who often feel like outsiders come in, get access to capital more easily and open up businesses in their neighborhood, but don’t respect them.
(This tension and lack of respect has been around for decades. I was reminded of this when I watched a short documentary on the murder of Latasha Harlins by an Asian store owner who thought the 15-year-old was stealing orange juice. The juice cost $1.79. Harlins had $2 in her hand.)
Then it finally hit me why I’ve been so bothered by those who refuse to wear masks, those who want the economy open as we’ve lost more than 200,000 people and the president of the United States and his ilk. They lack empathy.
There’s no consideration for your fellow human being and how he or she may be affected by your callous decisions.
Empathy is a sign of emotional intelligence, and it’s a quality the current leaders of this country lack. How else can you explain the current president’s decision to put others in harm’s way for the sake of optics? Only a person who lacks empathy could make a comment about how COVID-19 is nothing to worry about while the number of deaths continues to skyrocket.
I don’t think I’ve ever consciously thought about whether or not my elected leaders should be able to be empathetic. But now it’s a quality I’m keenly aware of — or the lack of said quality. You don’t have to live in poverty, experience a disparity or face sexism to empathize with someone dealing with any of those circumstances. You don’t have to be Black to understand why Black lives matter.
Now I understand why so many sound tone deaf. They lack the ability to truly care for the well-being of others. They lack empathy.