Empathy is often defined to the layman as putting oneself into person’s shoes, asking how would I feel or think or what would I do if I were in the same or a similar situation. And, yes, while I agree wholeheartedly with that definition, I think that responding in an empathetic manner can be triggered by one question, “why”, for it is when we ask “why” do we begin to dig beyond what’s right in front of us.
I’m not sure that as children, we often have the experience to even ask the question “why”. However, as we mature, our reasoning and ability to ask why should increase.
Example: Five year old points out tons of gray hair and wrinkles adorned by an elderly women to his mother. The child’s response: Mom, she’s old…like really old. On the other hand, mom responds: She’s mature and full of wisdom. We’d be luck to live as long and experience as much as she has.
However, in our adult years, we often respond as recklessly as an immature, unexposed 5-year-old child. We have poor use of words. We make fun of others who may be experiencing one or more unfortunate circumstances. And we judge.
Humans are masters of pulling out their gavel and judging – all without asking the question why.
Why does she look disheveled? What you don’t know is the miraculous feat she had pull together to even make it to work after nursing a sick child while in the middle of a divorce.
Why is she so small? Maybe she’s not anorexic. Maybe she tries hard to gain weight, and can’t. And to her, it’s an insult to be called skinny. (Three people close to me have told me about the fact that they were tired of being called skinny.)
Why does he smell foul? Maybe he just got done exercising but decided to take a shower at home instead of at the gym due to him being a germophobe…or just because he feels more comfortable at his home.
Why is her house so messy? Well, while she does her best to keep her home tidy, her schedule is hectic, she gets freaked out to the point of panic attacks at even the thought of touching dirty items, and the housekeeper doesn’t come until tomorrow.
No matter how deep or not-so-deep the answer is, what you see, hear, smell, or even say has a why behind it. So, before we try to be so judgmental or even rude, let’s try to ask the why. And let’s try to have a bit more heart and show a little more empathy…online and off.