Let’s Play Empathy Roulette

Let’s all buckles in for some stream-of- consciousness thoughts. Good luck.

In a time that feels so morally challenging across the globe, it seems to me that a competition of morals has sprung up between everyone. I might be a little sensitive, but every time I log onto any of my social media accounts, it feels as if I am being judged for simply not doing enough. The worst part of this is that it is definitely true.

Together, as the collective inhabitants of this once-off and still beautiful world, we are judging one another against an ever-changing rule book of social conduct. We preside as both the persecuted and the jury, rarely deigning to become each other’s defense.

We challenge each other over social issues, based solely on our own points of view. Climate change, political correctness, mental health, food… and all of that excludes our polarising political opinions.

I cannot help but ask myself how exactly any nation or society is supposed to grow and thrive in empathy if we only sing from our own hymn sheet, positive that our high note is the single correct sound and, therefore, all that needs to be heard.

I am the first to admit that I have an unhealthy addiction to YouTube. Perhaps someday I’ll reach that blissful state of maturity when I no longer care about a vlogger’s morning routine or a new ASMR video using only food, but for right now, this is where I am. During my many late nights delving through my subscription box, I saw two apology videos from two different vloggers, apologising – for minor offenses – stated with apparent sincerity.

Whilst it is a common fact that the YouTube comment section is typically a dark and twisty path to follow, I couldn’t help but scroll down. I was desperate to see some comments that showed an ounce of empathy or kindness. They were there – but remained a mere trickle against a tidal wave of condemnation. This caused a pretty lengthy spiral within my own mind as I found myself examining all of the many little guilts that I have conditioned myself to apologise for.

As a child, I was always one to feel guilt quickly and regret often. My mother uttered; ‘Just let it go, Jen’ more times than I can remember. Now, with a somewhat genetic complex for guilt and anxiety, I have noticed the toll that ‘cancel culture’ and social media is having on my own mind. I now hold myself accountable for my every breath, as if waiting to be called out by a hoard of angry trolls or a miniature cartoon version of myself, like in Lizzie McGuire.

I constantly ask myself, could I have been kinder? More empathetic? On the surface, this sounds like a healthy technique to prosper generosity in others, but in reality in makes the moments in which I do snap or show a less-than-polite version of myself all the harder to swallow.

And so the diatribe continues: I haven’t been environmentally-friendly enough/PC/kind/empathetic/healthy/vegan/insert-internalised-pressure-here enough. Some days it feels as though I haven’t been enough full-stop – a pattern I am beginning to witness and see in others and now as we enter a new decade. My Twitter feed is full of the totting up of achievements, photographic evidence added. I am not resentful, dear reader, truly I am not. But this is just intensifies the pressure cooker of an ever-changing code of behaviour that we all must subscribe too now. If political correctness and success become the only worthy currencies of existence, those grey moments in which most learning occurs becomes immature, foolish and unwelcome.

Several nights ago I was asked what I would say is my biggest achievement has been in the last ten years. Immediately, my stomach sank and my mind automatically drifted to the institutionalised thoughts. University, exams passed, degrees, diplomas. Yet the answer seemed to lodge in my throat and I said the only words I did actually mean. I grew empathy for myself and others – including my own and other’s mistakes.

It seems to me that every issue in the world could be remedied or at least improved by empathy. Sympathy is not enough, it doesn’t inspire action. But how does one grow empathy for others? Perhaps the first step is increasing the empathy and love we have for ourselves.

More than once I’ve seen people scoff at the concept of self-love, particular the older generation who tend to cling to the catch-all of sensitive snowflakes to condemn new standards of respect. In truth, I would likely be the same had I not been sick for five years. During that time I faced many minuscule humiliations, one after another in rapid succession. Losing the ability to walk for any length of time, to stay awake, to socialise, to climb stairs. These events were not my fault, but still felt like somewhat of a debasement as a fun-loving college student.

In the end, the only action that helped soothe the pain I felt at the constant reminder than my twenties would likely be my peak was self-directed empathy.

By introducing a kindness and respect for what I did manage to do everyday, I found that what I was able to do for others in a day increased. Of course, this directly appealed to my need to morally please a society that demands us to act.

What is my point, you may ask? It is a message howled through the viral hurricane of the internet from YouTube to TikTok, from boomers to millennials. Kindness. Just be kind, to yourself above all else. This is not a selfishness that will increase greed but instead an acknowledgement of your abilities with respect.

 Please, the next time you find yourself lurking around the dark edges of a comments section on any platform, aspire to offer compassion – or better yet, just keep scrolling past.

That’s all of my musings for now,

Jen x





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