Fighting hate with empathy

A few months ago, back when many still deemed a Trump presidency impossible, I was sitting on the quad when I heard a friend ask a question that has stuck with me to this day:

“If Trump becomes president, will I be affected?”

The question wasn’t how would Trump affect our country or the world, but rather how would his presidency affect her personally.

It’s a question that reflects the self-centered mentality that every single one of us has succumb to at one point or another. After all, it’s in human nature to be egocentric, to a certain extent.

We see the world through our own eyes, live every day in our own skin. It would be impossible, then, to completely disregard our own personal interest, to prevent ourselves from wondering how any given event might affect our own lives.

But this question, this focus on self-interest, is just as dangerous as it is inevitable. In emphasizing our personal interests, it becomes easy to ignore other perspectives.

The more we focus on ourselves, the harder it becomes to see and understand issues that may not affect us personally.

To avoid being blinded to the world around us, we must address our own personal concerns while also remembering to step into others’ shoes from time to time.

Now more than ever, we need to be empathetic. Empathy forces us to look beyond personal interest. Empathy fights against hate. Without it, discriminatory rhetoric and policies will have no trouble sweeping across America during the next four years.

Without empathy, immigrants and refugees will be treated as statistics rather than as people.

Last October, I spoke with two Syrians, Fadia Afashe and Jay Abdo, for The Chronicle’s Feature story on the Syrian refugee crisis. I saw Fadia and Jay again Jan. 28, the day after Trump signed an executive order banning immigration from Muslim-majority countries. The immigration ban, they said, has altered their perception of America as a country founded on immigration, one that stands for acceptance and tolerance. Now, they feel as though the struggles they faced to establish lives in America have been disregarded. They are now seen as the enemy.

Without empathy, those who have the resources to raise children will prevent women who lack these same resources from having abortions.
They will decide what a woman can and cannot do with her body, as though her body is their own, as though she has no free will.

They will fail to consider the fact that she was raped or that she would be unable to provide food and shelter for her child.

Without empathy, love will be a law written by heterosexuals. If a man loves a man, his feelings will be shunned. If a woman wants to marry a woman, her wish will be seen as a violation of the law of love. Love will be confined and defined in terms of straight men and women’s personal emotions.

Immigration, abortion, gay marriage — these are only a few important examples of the many issues that depend upon empathy.

Whether or not we are in their situation, we need to take the time to imagine how vulnerable immigrants must be when starting a life in a foreign country, how powerless a woman must feel when her body is no longer under her own control, how heartbroken a gay man must be after being told his love is illegal.

Only then can we begin to see the importance of fighting for issues that do not directly impact our own lives.

Empathy is so simple, yet so easily forgotten. We are lucky to go to a school that teaches us to learn from other cultures and provides us with the information needed to understand that the world does not revolve around us. So all it takes to be empathetic is time — conscious, thoughtful time.
It takes stepping back for a few minutes every day, even in the midst of a stressful week at school. It takes realizing when we’re spending too much time addressing our personal concerns and instead making a deliberate effort to reflect on what other people might be experiencing.

Empathy is nonpartisan. No matter our political views, we can all strive to be empathetic and, in doing so, can ensure that no perspective is overlooked.

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