This is the fifth blog beginning for this week. Somehow, I just can’t get my words together. I know what I want to say, but it feels so big and overwhelming that it gets stuck in my throat.
Or maybe it feels so ridiculously obvious that I can’t even believe that it still needs to be said.
It is all a jumble of sentences in my head that I’m sure fit together in some kind of pattern, but I can’t seem to find them the space to flow.
The sentence that keeps resurfacing for me again and again is this: No one should have to get used to being raped, beaten or murdered.
This needs to be our first priority as a global society if we are ever going to grow, heal and change for the better. We need to be able to see and understand that we are all mostly the same, we need to vastly boost our levels of empathy.
First, I’d like all the fabulously talented social scientists to globally gather together and create a test for measuring empathy in an individual. (I am not a social scientist and don’t know exactly what this would look like, but I do know that if we spent as much time worrying about our children’s capacity to be empathetic towards others as we do worrying about whether they are reading at a level Q or R then we would start to move forward.)
Then, I’d like these tests to be used for every job where one human is given power over another. Teachers, doctors, police officers, would all be tested, but most importantly we would test every politician before they even had the chance to attain office. Any potential candidate who scored low on empathy would be shown the door.
Can you imagine if every country, province, state and city was run by an empathetic ruler? Can you imagine the difference it would make in the world if those that held the most power and had the most ability to affect change were more interested in humanity than they were in growing their own egos?
Empathy and kindness are like best friends and have a beautiful ability to dissolve racism, sexism and most other vehicles of hate. Empathy and kindness together make it impossible to suffer from what writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie refers to as the single story. (If you haven’t watched her TED talks, it is 19 minutes that will enrich your life.)
The single story is a beautiful way of explaining how we develop stereotypes, by seeing and believing a one-dimensional view of a group of people. You are guilty of a single story anytime you boil down an entire group of people to one characteristic. Those stories don’t even have to be negative to be damaging. For instance, when I came back from teaching in China for two years a lot of people asked me if I missed teaching Chinese kids because they are all so hard working.
Chinese students are not all hard working, because no group of people are all anything. Chinese students are complex human beings, just like students from every other part of the world. They do not have a single story.
If that police officer in Minneapolis did not have a single story of black people then George Floyd would be still alive.
Single stories are the root of dehumanisation, they allow us to believe that others are less than we are. They build walls of othering. If you put yourself in the shoes of another, you can no longer believe in the single story you have built up around them. Empathy is the bridge to understanding more than a stereotype.
An article I found in The Conversation, describes empathy as having three steps.
Understanding the emotions of another person.
Feeling those emotions.
Responding to them appropriately.
Ideally we learn these three steps as children and then go forth into the world as emotionally connected, empathetic souls. The problem is that we only learn empathy if it is something that we are taught.
We only learn empathy if the people in our lives have also learned empathy and know how to share it with us. If the language of our home is one of privilege and single stories, then these are the stories we will retell.
So how does it end? How do we break the cycle of disconnection that allows for racism, homophobia, sexism… It has to be through education. It is the only way.
We need an education system that is built on community and acceptance. Let’s see what happens when we deemphasize standards tests, we throw out reading levels and instead focus on teaching empathy, kindness and meditation. Would you rather live in a society where everyone can divide fractions or a society built on mutual respect and understanding?
I work with children because I believe that they are the future and the brightest light we have in this world. Let’s give them the power to share that light with everyone.