We all need and should learn empathy!

A few years ago, I was at a wedding and something happened that got a few people talking. Like a typical Ghanaian wedding, we had been waiting for the bride for almost two hours (I could not leave because I had promised to sing for the bride) – while we waited, the church tried to keep everyone entertained by having the band play. I noticed that one of the girls singing in the band was heavily pregnant and after being on her feet for a while, I could tell she was very tired. Eventually, our beautiful bride arrived at her wedding and after she marched in with her bridesmaids, this pregnant woman was called to sing, again. Before she introduced her song, she cradled her baby bump and stated that, she almost missed the wedding – before we could all laugh at her joke, because she looked ready to pop, an older man in the audience spoke out loudly “but you are here so just sing the song”. She said no more and those of us who shared her humour could not laugh and the energy she brought to this song was very different to the energy she had earlier on. The disturbing part of what this man did were other women who found how he had behaved comical. He had humiliated this pregnant woman, refused to acknowledge that she was talking about her experience and he could have chosen to see things from her perspective – and perhaps treat her graciously. This heavily pregnant woman, had been on her feet to ensure that the wedding of this rude man’s niece was a success and he could not show empathy when she was gracious enough to lighten the mood of the tired guests who had been kept waiting for almost two hours. After her song, I noticed this woman pick up her stuff not long after and leave.

While I was researching what to write this week, I came across a quote that I really loved “everyone has a natural capacity for empathy, but it’s generally considered a skill than a fixed trait”. This means that we can all learn to be empathetic when dealing with others – it is a skill I believe strongly that everyone needs to hone. Going back to the incident at this wedding I attended years ago – this man had never been pregnant but he had a wife and they had children. Now I know all pregnancies are not the same and everyone has different experiences but I am certain the fatigue of carrying another human being around is something all women who have experienced pregnancy have shared. So why would an older person who had seen his wife go through multiple pregnancies treat a younger woman, who was young enough to be his daughter in such a dismissive way? The answer was that he was not willing to look at things from her perspective or understand how she was feeling. Looking back at the incident, I felt this young woman responded to the whole situation very well – I am not sure many people would have had the courage to continue after being humiliated in front of everyone. What is it that makes us behave as if other people’s experiences and feelings are not important enough?

Last week, while writing about offence – I touched on people that get upset when the people they offend get offended. I stated that as social beings, it is impossible to go through life without offending others or being offended  – the difference is in what we do when we realise that we have offended another. Being made aware of how our actions of lack of have affected others should make us think of how the person had felt – to turn around and behave life they have no right to be affected by our actions of lack of is mean.  Also, I have come to realise that sometimes, seeing things from other’s perspective is a two way door that gives the opportunity for us to get the other person to also see our perspective. During lockdown last year, there was a post on social media that said something to the effect that this time in lockdown was a perfect opportunity to see who would call to check on people they cared about – and the response underneath that statement was that the world was experiencing a difficulty that affected everyone and no one was allowed to project their insecurities on anyone. I felt that! There had been so many relationships that ended prematurely and situations that had escalated for little reasons because people did not try to understand other’s experiences and see things from their perspective. Perhaps before we decide to end things, we need to understand and if we are unable to understand for whatever reason, then we need be patient with people and ourselves. Maybe friends had not called because they had their own issues they were dealing with privately or they could even be ill – because when I read that post on social media, my immediate thought was, well why couldnt they call instead? But thinking of it now, I could understand that sometimes being the one to always initiate contact makes us feel undervalued and beign hurt makes us guarded. These feelings can make us wirte posts like the one I saw on Instgram and it takes trying to understand the reason and person behind the post to not feel offended.

A mother tells her story of her teenager acting up – she advises that she and her husband had done all they could but this particular child was acting out. This child then started acting out in school and other social circles – as distraught as her parents were with their child’s behaviour, their social circle started treating them like they were the worst parents ever. These parents understood that people would talk no matter what so they tried to rise above the rumours but what hurt them the most was how people close to them quickly dismissed how they felt and proceeded to give advise! A few days ago, the BBC showed a documentary called ‘Church or Cult’ – this show started a lot of dialogue on twitter. There was a comment on twitter that caught my attention regarding the documentary – about how people that had been in abusive situations had tried to talk about their experiences and immediately got told to forget their experience or rise above being offended and offered unsolicited advise. As I read through the comments on Twitter, I noticed this was a pattern with many people and to be honest I could relate. Sometimes all people want is for someone to listen to their experiences – being quick to fix them by telling them what to do or how they should feel is not the best.

A turning point in my sessions in therapy last year was when after sharing a traumatic experience that had happened in my life my therapist calmly said, I want you to know that I believe you – those things did happen. Those words were enough to help me acknowledge what had happened and gave me strength to help me work towards dealing with that experience. Sometimes all we need is to be understood – if someone shares something, no matter how ridiculous we may think it sounds, we need to try to understand their experience and if we are unable to, we need to be kind instead of being dismissive.

Thank you for taking time to read, like, comment and share – let’s continue to effect change by sharing our experiences.


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