I Believe…in Empathy

Rose - Traverse City, Michigan
Entered on June 4, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
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This I believe…that there are certain things missing in society today; things that were present fifty years ago. There are also things present that did not phase the minds of generations past, things both good and bad. Of those things, the most surprising, and among the most serious, is the lack of empathy in today’s society. Not only has the action of being empathetic seemed have to disappear from society, but its meaning has been lost over the years.

Empathy is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “…the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feeling, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

There is a difference between empathy and sympathy, though many confuse both as sympathy. Sympathy has a number of definitions, one of which is, “An inclination to think or feel alike : emotional or intellectual accord (Merriam-Webster).” The definition I prefer to use to define sympathy, however, is “the correlation existing between bodies capable of communicating their vibrational energy to one another through some medium (Merriam-Webster).”

While only a few members of society today believe in communicating through “vibrational energy,” many believe in communication and co-existing effectively. The second definition uses a word I find interesting – “capable.” That is the difference between empathy and sympathy. So often, we are called to feel emotion for someone, but when was the last time we stood up and actually did something to create change?

Fifty years ago, children were taught to “respect their elders,” a term that has also seems to have lost its meaning over the years, and women were not so accustomed to the term “chivalry is dead.”

Fifty years ago, however, there were things going on that opposed the idea of empathy, just as there are today, such as multiple wars (some understandable, some not), the long lasting battle against slavery, poverty (which is still a serious issue today), and various types of discriminations (also still an issue). At that time, just as today, there were people in society who saw these things as unfortunate and in need of elimination, and there were those that did not.

I have always been curious about how past generations look at this age compared to their own. I asked my mother how she would describe her childhood as compared to society today. This is what she had to say, “Many children and teenagers today think of themselves first – they think only of themselves. ‘To each their own.’”

How many children today know what the word “empathy” means? Some may think they know what it means, but do they really?

One serious buffer of the emotion of empathy, and it may seem typical to go to source, is the media. “Of course,” you say, “attack the media. That’s an easy target.”

Everyday, people are being seen being murdered and kidnapped. No one questions when shows such as Kidnapped and Law and Order: SVU run season after season. I was most concerned when, at the end of this school year, while watching a movie in Religion class, an image was shown of a woman who had been murdered heartlessly. Images like this were being shown as the credits ran, for the movie was based on those actual events. I can only remember the strange feeling I had; it was like watching a cartoon, it did not seem real. Because most of what we see on television is not real (i.e. Law and Order), our ability to grasp the true meaning of a situation has been dulled, and I know that the images on the movie did not produce initial emotion they should have.

So, if I can leave with one last thought, it is this: There needs to be a re-evaluation of our moral and ethic responsibilities. Today’s society is lacking the empathy it once had, and if not addressed, we could find ourselves facing a very dangerous future to come.