We are all quick to judge people in situations we don’t understand. I am guilty of it and constantly have to check my judgement, put myself in that persons shoes and try to see where they are coming from. This is called empathizing. Empathy is the ability to understand and experiencing another person’s thoughts and feelings. It is connecting with that other person, and for a second, pretending that is you. (If you don’t know the difference between empathy and sympathy, watch this video.)
Whenever I empathize with people from backgrounds I have no experience with, I end up learning so much about the person and changing my perspective on the situation. Can you imagine if we all tried to do that? Think of how much nicer and considerate we’d be of others. For example, when you see a homeless young man in the street, instead of immediately thinking, “You’re too young for this! Get a job like the rest of us!” you should go talk to him. Or even just considered situations in which you might someday end up homeless. It’s difficult, but it really could happen to any one of us. Would you want someone to judge you without a chance to explain your circumstances? If you can see this young man as an extension of yourself, I promise your thoughts and reaction will be much different. Imagine if politicians and lawmakers were more empathetic. Imagine that they placed themselves in the shoes of those in less fortunate situations. Would they not at least consider laws, policy, and wages that are less damaging to those that are already in need? Imagine if racists were more empathetic. Imagine that a white man could see himself as a father of a black child. Would they not stop their hate speech and work with others to create a more just world for him new imaginary child? Imagine if homophobes were more empathetic. Imagine that these people pretend for a day that they were part of the gay community. Would they realize that gays are people also and do not deserve to be treated as second class citizens? Now, imagine if you were more empathetic. (You didn’t think I’d let you off the hook, did you?) What preconceived notions are you operating with on a daily basis? Are there people you could be more empathetic with? Maybe it’s a coworker who needs a little extra help because they’re gong through a hard time. Maybe it’s a stranger at a grocery store whose child is throwing a tantrum. Maybe it’s a neighbor you’ve never seen eye up eye with. Challenge yourself to be empathetic. Challenge others to be empathetic. The harder you find it to be empathic towards someone, the better. It’s not easy to do, but if we can all put ourselves in the shoes of our enemies, we might live in a more peaceful world.