I stumbled onto an excellent collection of anectotes by Joyce Arthur about pro-life/anti-choice advocates getting abortions, and it triggered a whole set of old thoughts and memories pertaining to an idea my father has brought up over the years: we judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their actions.
In other words, we (humans as a whole) lack empathy.
We don’t try to understand the motives and experiences of others, and instead judge them through some bizarre, inconsistent and often hypocritical lense, and ignore the ensuing cognitive dissonance.
I’ve compiled a few examples of this I’ve stumbled onto.
I’d like to update this list as I find more (or if you can think of any ;)
As mentioned above, Joyce Arthur compiled a collection of anectdotes from medical professionals and their experience assisting and interacting with pro-life/anti-choice advocates getting abortions. I highly recommend reading through the post. The TL;DR is that a good chunk of these women see the professionals performing and advising these operations as murderers, and the patients having abortions done as being weak and not-so-nice terms for people who have sex often. Yet they see no issues having their own abortion, because it’s an emergency, the condom broke, they’re not ready for parent-hood, etc. Because somehow it’s different. A few of the anecdotes tell how a previously pro-life/anti-choice advocate has changed their tone post-abortion, but many seem to go back to picketing and shaming other women for doing exactly what they did, for the exact same reasons.
Father and Daughters
This Reddit post tells a story that I’m sure isn’t uncommon; a man has a daughter and pulls a 180 on how they see women. All of a sudden, sexism is everywhere, harrassement is horrid, and everything that women have ever complained about (walking alone, walking at night, renting an Airbnb, having sex with strangers, being leered at, etc.) all of a sudden make sense. My man, you could have taken like 5 minutes to actually listen to all the horror stories women have told you, internalized them instead of shrugging them off, and you wouldn’t need a daughter to realize how absolutely fucked up the way women are treated is. From Kanye’s Violent Crimes:
“Father, forgive me, I’m scared of the karma ‘Cause now I see women as somethin’ to nurture; Not somethin’ to conquer.” … “Until you have a daughter, that’s what I call Karma and you pray to god she don’t grow breasts too soon”.
Politicians and Policy
I’ll probably forget to find sources for this (I tried a bit and failed miserably, probably should have bookmarked articles when I found them). It’s happened more than a couple times that politicians only take interest in a topic once it impacts them directly. A politician will be against covid measures, until a family measure is in the hospital with it. Another won’t give a flying fuck about insulin prices, until they get diabetes and realize how expensive it is. Are they more at fault than anyone else for this lack of empathy? Maybe. On one hand, it’s literally their job to kickstart fixing societal problems, so it’s a pretty gross failure to not address issues until it influences you. On the other, maybe they have a lot on their plate and don’t have the mental capacity for every problem in every aspect of society. I have no clue. I’ll try to find sources for this maybe. Maybe.
2021-07-03: Well, it didn’t take long for something to pop up organically. North Carolina Senate Majority Leader Kathy Harrington recently voted to pass a medical marijuana bill. From the article:
She said her husband was recently diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer, and she has since come to realize that medical marijuana could help other patients in similar, painful situations.
“If you had asked me six months ago if I would support this bill, I would have said no,” Harrington said. “But life comes at you fast.”
Case and point.
Ever have someone switch to your lane without signaling, or way too close to your vehicle? What about someone not signaling at an intersection and forcing you to wait to see what they do? Pretty infuriating. And it seems to happen all the time. But maybe it’s just a numbers game, and you’re just another player. Have you ever made a mistake when driving? Do you think that, when you made that mistake, you were one of many mistakes that someone saw that day, and that you might have made them angry too? Or do you default to “oh, well that’s my mistake for this week or this month”. How often do you think about whether that person who just cut in front of you made their mistake of the month as well?
Women in Novels
I hate that a long-form essay needs to be written about writing women as human beings. You’d think it would be pretty damn simple: women = human beings, just like men (see below). Yet many authors default them to tropes, caricatures, or an accessory to the (male) protagonist. They aren’t taking a moment to think about how women think and feel (like humans, mainly!), and so all their characters’ complexity and individuality is thrown out the window, and they’re reduced to human-shaped cardboard cutouts with an overwhelming desire to date the main character. Praise to authors like Steven Erikson, who presents both men and women as endlessly philosophizing, horny, stoic, sarcastic badasses. Boo to the other authors.
Privacy (Added 2021-07-22)
I went on an online-privacy bender a while ago and, when discussing it with others, the stereotypical answer of “I have nothing to hide” came up very often. Looking past how the whole premise of the information “giver” needing a reason to give it instead of the information “receiver” needing to ask for it, this answer demonstrates a clear lack of empathy. Sure, you don’t need privacy. But you’re also a white Christian or Athiest in a progressive/tolerant part of North America. What about queer people who live in Egypt, or gay priests, or anyone who isn’t the cookie cutter member of their respective organization or culture? Martin Niemöller wrote a poem in 1946 which allows us to draw a parallel between the indifference towards the prosecution of Jews and minorities in Germany around WW2, and our indifference to the struggles groups might face today.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
(not to equate data siphoning to the Holocaust, but rather show how those in a position of privilege tend to disregard the struggles of those who aren’t part of the “in” group)
You’re Not the Protagonist
Sometimes, it hits me that the person I’m having a conversation with is an actual person. Like, they have a brain. They have feelings. Thoughts. Experiences. Hopes. Dreams. I don’t think I realize this often enough. It’s easy to see a homeless person as NPC. To see crowds as some kind of seething animal, mindless and unified. We forget that every individual is just that; an individual. No more and no less special than us. Lets not treat ourselves as better than them, or worthy of some kind of differential treatment or judgement. Maybe if we see them as just as nuanced and scared and blindly stumbling through life as we are, we’ll take a moment to consider whether lambasting them for mistakes we would absolve ourselves of is really fair or respectful.
I don’t really have a conclusion for this post. Maybe keep empathy at the back of your mind, and try to practice it whenever you can. Try, genuinly try, to see things from the perspective of others. Their life circumstances, their experiences, their ethics. Consider how they might want to be treated, and how you’d want to be treated, in their situation.