Above all, have empathy
Patrick Crowley | Opinions EditorBy Patrick Crowley | 04/21/2015 10:09pm
I don’t like to beat around the bush, and I’m not going to start on my last column.
I remember the days after “The Final Barrier” article was printed in The Crimson White and the lead up to the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door March. I remember the few groups of sorority women that stood up on those steps, who wanted to let campus and the outside world know that they did not agree with what has been done in the past and who demanded that the present and future must change – that took bravery and courage. But what I remember the most – and what the majority of people on those steps won’t remember – is that no one in the Mallet Assembly, no leader of the marches, no independent student went up to talk to the group of sorority women. Even as campus was standing in a partial display of unity, the categories on campus we defined ourselves by still separated us. Never the twain shall meet; but there is neither Greek nor non-Greek, in-state nor out-of-state, nor birth – or so we all hope.
This lack of empathy is not just a problem on college campuses. During my past two summers I’ve had the privilege to live in New York City, where I witnessed poverty and wealth on an extreme scale. One night, a group of colleagues and myself we were walking a down a street when we saw a homeless man sitting on a cardboard box. This is nothing extraordinary in New York City, but what deeply shocked me and reverberates within me to this day is that he held a sign that said, “Insult and mock me for $5.” His jar for collecting money was almost full. Now, I want you to imagine how much money you would sell your pride, your honor, your human dignity for. Is it $5? I also want you to imagine what you would say to the man, and then ask yourself why you would say that. He has a mother and a father, dreams and desires, a past and a future, too. He might also be you one day.
I use the example of this homeless man not to irritate you or depress you. Rather, I use it to illustrate a larger problem in society, that is, the lack of empathy, understanding and compassion for fellow humans. One can ascribe multiple reasons as to why there has been a decline in empathy. For one, the everyday use of technology is directly correlated with the inability to read faces and body language appropriately. This is problematic because the majority of communication consists of body language and facial expressions. Far too many of us, including myself, lean on our phones and tablets for endless entertainment and use them as tools to disconnect from human interactions. We cannot come to understand each others’ points of view with a screen in front of our faces or with headphones in our ears.
What we can do to understand each other’s point of views is to read books, read the news, experience communities, ask questions and talk to people. I’m a huge proponent of reading because the benefits are numerous and, specifically, literature helps build bridges of understanding. Experiencing other communities is important, but never forget the community you live in and the problems it faces. Too many students have never crossed under I-359 on their way to the West End but are more than eager to help in other areas in the state like the Black Belt. Where you live will always have problems and every member of the community has a role to play in fixing them. We cannot shrink from our duty to help others simply because the problems strike too close to home and pop the splendid bubble of the university we inhabit.
I once wrote, “By not exercising our human power of empathy we are numbing ourselves and reducing our own meaning of life.” These words still ring true. We must use our power as educated people to imagine a better world for everyone and help those who need us most.
Patrick Crowley was the Opinions Editor of the Crimson White.