Empathy out of the Eruption

This blog began two weeks ago as something smaller. Now with the state of the world, I realized it fit into what I was working on and felt like I’d be doing a disservice by not talking about it.

Content warning: Police brutality

I love my friends. I support them all in every way that I can, even when it’s difficult. They’ve all been there for me in more times and ways that I can remember. I wouldn’t be who I am today without each of their individual influences. I have to admit, though, they’ve been driving me crazy lately.

I don’t know if this stems from a place of general insecurity, where some feel they need to shrink themselves down, or if it’s simply more evident because of our uncertainty with the pandemic, but lately any time a friend of mine expresses any sort of feelings, it’s preceded or capped off with one of these phrases:

“I know I shouldn’t feel this way…”
“…even though I don’t have a right to feel that way.”
“…I know, that’s stupid but…”
“I shouldn’t feel this way, other people have it worse.”
“Sorry to bother you with this, but…”

The last one even includes the infamous apology for nothing, which is a habit we all (especially me) need to ditch. All of these phrases carry the same weight, and it’s one we desperately need to rid ourselves of.

Feelings and emotions are valid. Yes, all feelings and emotions.

Especially when you factor in how the world is hurting at this time, a lot of feelings we may not be familiar with are showing up. Some people are experiencing empathy for the first time in their life. Normally peaceful folks are suddenly having to deal with anger for the first time. So many are feeling scared but are working to feel brave to try and be there for others that need it.

We can’t control our feelings. We can control how we respond to them, but you should never apologize for feeling any way that you do. Take it from someone who’s tried to deal with a myriad of feelings from good ol’ PTSD; I don’t like feeling angry about it but I’m learning it’s not bad unless I decide to act upon that anger. 

Emotions are an internal response to things that happen. They’re triggered by your brain releasing chemicals, preventing you from thinking with your fully rational brain. 

Yes, preventing you from thinking with your fully rational brain.

Even when you aren’t consciously aware of your feelings, they can sway your mind in many different ways. Even “positive” feelings can do this—how many times have you done things you wouldn’t normally have done because you were feeling happy or brave or excited? How many decisions have you made out of fear? How many pints of ice cream have you eaten when you’re sad? 

And now we take a slight (but not far off) detour.

Funnily enough, I started this blog a couple of weeks ago, simply wanting to address the validation of feelings, have it not be much more than one of my uplifting mental health pieces.

And then George Floyd was murdered, becoming another unarmed black man murdered by a cop. And the entire country had something to feel from it.

When this has happened in the past, outrage followed. Anger. Hurt. Sympathy. But something about this murder struck a chord with people that have let these injustices remain in the periphery for too long. It may have been the horror of seeing Floyd’s neck being kneeled on for nine minutes. It may have been because the country was already in a state of disarray and people were more open to let themselves have a reaction. Whatever it was, I’m seeing something here that I don’t believe I’ve noticed in these situations before:

A lot of people are experiencing empathy for the first time.

I’m an empath, so that’s been my life. But I’m seeing so many loved ones, acquaintances and colleagues suddenly grappling with what it’s really like to take on another human’s emotions. Empathy can be a good thing, of course, when a friend is sharing news or a loved one had a good day. Often though, it’s painful as you feel the hurt someone else is experiencing, even if the only way you sensed it was by the energy they gave off. Whatever it is, it’s extremely powerful and tough to handle even when you’re used to it.

I’m one of the people that should have been speaking out sooner. I used to, but I’ve let the fact I’ve met many people in these past few years that disagree with me on many issues scare me out of standing up for what I believe in. While once again finding that voice for activism in myself, I’ve seen many people that never speak out on issues suddenly leading the charge against police brutality and sporting the Black Lives Matter hashtag in posts. While it’s heartening to see they want to do better, I hurt for them knowing the motivation comes from attempting to feel what those in pain are feeling.

Now I’m not in any way trying to imply that everyone suddenly knows exactly how it feels to be black as that would be a gross assumption. But people are finally thinking about what it would be like to be in a black person’s shoes—attempting to grasp what a fear of the police is like, especially when you factor in the fact that includes a fear for your life. Attempting to feel what it’s like to be silenced. I even feel ridiculous for typing those statements, as if I really know what that’s like or even what the black community is feeling right now but from a place of empathy, those are the feelings I’ve taken on and tried to understand.

I would encourage those who refuse to look at what caused this situation to escalate to the point of protests and riots because it wasn’t for nothing. I’d encourage them to educate themselves and ask questions. Mostly, I would encourage them to give empathy a try, as those sorts of things are much easier when you have empathy.

To those reading this who are black: I am here for you. I will listen to what you need. I will keep fighting for you, even to those who don’t seem to listen. Not only do black lives matter, but they’re important, they’re essential, they’re enough, they’re worthy of the best treatment.

Nothing will change until we demand change. We all have to work together to help those that aren’t being heard themselves. We aren’t all made for a protest, but sign a petition, talk about it, do SOMETHING. Being complacent makes you part of the problem.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” -Desmond Tutu