Friday, January 16, 2015

Kindergarten day one: real or pretend?

OK, first of all, let me say that I have nothing against Penny from The Big Bang Theory and truly meant to defend her right to be or act like a bimbo or a housewife or a theoretical physicist, especially if she is funny.  So let it go, Bob.

The thing with Penny from the Big Bang Theory and with many many other people, is that they are playing and they think they are real.  There is nothing wrong with playing, but it is important to know "real" and "imaginary."  Remember kindergarten?  That's one of the standards.  Real.  Pretend.

And so Penny from the Big Bang Theory plays at being a housewife.  Cool.  Then there are those who play at being homeless.   Or black.  Or blind.  Or in a wheelchair.  I suppose they believe they can develop empathy if they experience something.

But here's the thing: that's not how it works.  That's not how any of this works!

Empathy is the ability to sense the feelings and experiences of another.  It should lead to compassion. It shouldn't lead to the smug sense that you KNOW how it feels to be (fillintheblank) and can now be the impassioned spokesperson for the underprivileged.

Maybe if you are particularly non-empathetic you need to actually experience something, but then it is your experience not theirs.  And it is going to be different.

If you dress in a dirty $300 parka and sleep in the park instead of your home in order to experience homelessness, you are not experiencing homelessness.  You are camping.

If you roll around in a wheelchair to experience paralysis, but can get up and open the door for yourself when you choose to do so, you are not experiencing paralysis.  You are riding in a wheelchair.

Any time you can wash off your black face, take off your blindfold, get up and walk home, you are not experiencing, you are playing.

Maybe you will have an aha! moment, and that's cool.  Use it.  But empathy comes from listening, hearing, seeing, feeling, without being.  You don't have to literally walk a mile in someone else's shoes.

If you are privileged, and you probably are in some way, be aware of what you have been given.  And use those gifts to help other people.  Even if you aren't exactly sure of what others are dealing with --- listen, then help.

And keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself.

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