An Experiment in Empathy: 7 Journeys Into the Minds of Others
Humans are empathetic by nature. We can ’imagine’ how horrible/amazing it must be to be this person, or to go through that event. But often times our hubris and biases get in the way of our ability to truly experience empathy. So, I am going to present a few hypothetical scenarios in hopes that I can simulate an experience of pure empathy within you.
As a disclaimer, these perspectives do not accurately represent everyone in their respective stereotypes. They are put forth only as possibilities.
IMPORTANT: You have a part in this too! You must do your absolute best to drop all biases and prior ‘knowledge’ at this point, otherwise the exercise will be pointless. Try to take on the described personas as vividly as possible by visualizing the described circumstance as you read.
1) The Occupation
2) For Men…
You are a woman. You’ve grown up your entire life with poor role models in most movies, TV shows and books. Instead of watching those of your gender win wars, lead countries and save the day, you see your gender (on average) as the ‘prize’ for that hero character. Your role models in most TV shows and books have been women hopelessly dependent on finding love and overly worried about looks and clothing. This has certainly had an effect because most every woman you know mirrors this behavior. Anything else is considered unfeminine. Most guys like girls who dress up to look pretty because they’re used to the visual extremes of women in popular media. Even worse, many guys are threatened by a women smarter, more successful or stronger than them. Fitting in with those dumb girl stereotypes just makes things easier. Things are certainly changing for women, and have improved tremendously especially in previous decades, but you still have a long way to go.
No matter where you go, there is always a man keen on staring at your body. Not in an admiring way; more so in a lustful, licking-lips type of way. You know that this emphasis on sex is spurred by omnipresent sexual imagery and sexual repression, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less uncomfortable. Men seem to be more into sex than you are, but you’re not asexual either. You have desires too, but you must be careful not to act upon them too freely or you’ll be deemed a ‘slut’.
3) For Women…
You are a man. Despite what women may think, your sex drive is ever-present and overwhelming. You like to reference the story of a woman who was taking testosterone to recover from an injury, and she asked her doctor if he could the stop the constant stream of sexual thoughts into her mind. You don’t really think about sex every 3 seconds, but that’s not too far off. Ever since you were a kid you have been exposed to images of women as sex objects. Your father or uncle might have even made jokes about ‘the woman’s place in the kitchen’ or how men are ‘just plain better’ than women. Ever since you can remember, conversations with other guys have included phrases like ‘getting some pussy’ and ‘fuck that bitch’. It is cool to treat women poorly. Guys who are romantic and are in it for more than sex are ‘pussies’. This is what popular culture has taught you, and almost every guy you know. To make matters worse, sex is taboo in your society. Women are discouraged from given into their sexual desires too freely. So while your sex drive has been teased and heightened (you want what you can’t have, right?), that of women has been repressed. The result is frustration.
4) The Police
You are on the police force. You have spent the last 15 years striving do be a good cop, but have still heard ‘Fuck the police!’ and ‘Pig!’ more times than you can count. Blind hatred for you and brothers on the force comes from every direction. The ‘cops are evil’ theme in most movies isn’t helping either. You are routinely trained to believe that you are above other citizens because, well, legally you are. Many other policeman rejoice in that fact, so you’re constantly immersed in a superiority complex. Your mindset often comes to resemble ‘Me vs. Them’, which makes sense because the same mindset is held by most of the citizens you deal with on a daily basis.
To make matters worse, your partner and countless other friends on the force have been either injured or killed on the job in disputes with these same citizens. You, yourself, have often feared for your own safety because someone decided to act like a gangster after too many beers. When you shoot that person who was trying to hurt you, you are criticized for police brutality. They just don’t understand what it’s like to be shot at, what happens to the mind when a tremendous amount of adrenaline is released in the body. Man is capable of strange, illogical things when he is put under major stress.They don’t understand the transformation that happened to the younger you who went into the force to ‘protect and serve’; he has been conditioned to be wary of those same people he originally meant to help.
5) Your Parents
(If you’re a parent yourself, you can skip this one since you already know) 17 years ago you and your spouse jumped up and down with delight when the pregnancy test showed positive. The time had finally come to create a living, breathing human being who you could love and show the world to. After 9 months of choosing names, baby showers, stomach kicks and anticipation, your little darling was born. The first time they said ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ was only topped by the first time they told you ‘I love you’. For those first few years, you two are best friends. You spend every waking moment caring for them and loving them.
Then, as with anything, things change. Your child grows up, makes new friends, tries out new things as they attempt to figure out their place in this vast world. High school comes along and suddenly they aren’t your little baby anymore. But one thing hasn’t changed: how much you FUCKING love this child of yours. The love you have for even your parents and your spouse pales in comparison (this is why you laugh when your child says they are ‘in love’ for the first time because you know they could not possibly love another like you love them).
As your child and you grow further apart, you still want to know anything and everything about their life. It’s just like in the beginning stages of a relationship when you want to hear every detail about your lover’s day. If you’re lucky, your child indulges in your silly questions because they know you just love them and have a hard time connecting with them (a generation gap will do that to anyone). If you’re not lucky, they scoff at you and wish they had cooler parents… out loud. That hurts, but you still love them anyways. You always will, no matter what.
6) The ‘Enlightened’
You wake up every morning with a smile on your face. You know that today is going to be a fantastic day because you are in absolute acceptance of everything, even the things you previously would have made you very angry. Even the most bothersome of people only inspire feelings of intense love and compassion because you know that truly they are beings of love, covered in rough human shells.
Everyone that crosses your path parts in a state of wonder because of the illogical amount of love and attention you displayed towards them. It’s amazing how even the most hateful people react to unconditional love. It’s the curveball they never expected, and needed so desperately.
You used to feel above these ‘unenlightened’ people, but that left something to be desired. Soon you realized that the final step in your development was seeing everyone as equal despite the discrepancy in perspectives. Pity, you discovered, is far less transformative than love.
You’re not sure what is next for you in life, but you know that it’s worked out so far. You’re too busy enjoy the hell out of every single moment to think about the last or the next. You are in heaven on earth, and wish only to help other people see this place as you do.
7) The Leader
You were recently elected the leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world. You had pages of plans for how to change your country and the world once you got into office, but your position is different than you had imagined. Deals made under previous regimes, back-stage politics, constant international and internal pressure, confidential information which you weren’t aware of before being elected and the very system in which your position exists make your decisions impossibly more difficult than expected. Not to mention the eyes of the entire world are on you at all times.
Why do people think they understand your job? Average citizens wouldn’t argue with the decisions of an astrophysicist so why do they think they can comprehend arguably the most difficult job in the world? You tell yourself to be above the news critics and the polls, but they’re hard to ignore completely. It’s no wonder every person in your position leaves the office with more grey hair than when they entered.
It doesn’t make it any better that at any time, some whacko could come at you with a gun for making a decision they didn’t like. Leaders before you have been shot and killed so that’s always a possibility. You weren’t so sure about the power of thoughts before, but now you swear you can feel the concentrated hatred from adverse parties around the world. Or maybe the pressure is just getting to you…