Being only a teenager and not having lived through many generations of people, I suppose it is an unfair judgment for me to say that Americans are losing their ability to empathize. However, I do believe that we could all stand to be a lot more empathetic.
I came to this conclusion after watching the results of my school’s competitive drama program. My freshman year in 2003, we took to competition an emotional performance pertaining to the atrocities of September 11th. It was well received and we advanced easily to the state competition. Now, in my senior year, we presented another dramatic piece, in much the same minimalist, emotional way. This time the subject matter was the genocide in Darfur. Ironically, the script was concerned with the world’s indifference to these tragedies—and the judges were largely indifferent. We struggled to advance past the regional competition due to shockingly low scores. Our success was hinged on the ability to make an emotional impact on the audience, and sadly Darfur garners much less attention, and yes, empathy, than the close to the heart attacks of September 11th.
This lack of empathy does not just apply in the general sense of America towards other nations. I have seen this indifference on a personal level, on a day-to-day basis. I work in customer service at a large electronics store and I am amazed at the self-absorbed behavior of many customers. A broken iPod is the biggest problem in the world today and my worth as a human is determined by my ability to remedy this issue. Somehow, the fact that I stand behind a counter gives many people the impression that they have the right to attack me—I’ve been called a baby, a snot nosed brat, and been told repeatedly that this minimum wage retail job is the most success I will ever achieve. What I feel is missing from these people is perspective. I am a strong believer that everyone has secrets, and if we take the time to look outside ourselves it becomes possible to consider these other perspectives. The young girl, whose face you’re currently yelling in, is recovering from a major car accident, has spent six hours taking a test in order to earn credit towards the college for which she is currently working to be able to afford. And she is refusing to replace your eight month old mp3 player, not because she does not empathize with the fact that your dog chewed it up, but because company and store policy that is beyond her control does not allow it. By taking the time to consider the emotions and motivations behind another person’s actions, we are better able to identify and relate to them in a positive, humanitarian way.
I believe that what our society needs more than anything else is a little more of this compassion towards our fellow man. It’s time to step back and begin to look at the world through someone else’s eyes.
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