You're All Individuals. We're All Individuals!
Say you're strolling down a delightful country path in the winding canyons 🚶. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, Disney is about to make an animated opening scene of you 🔆🦜. All is right in the world. You turn a corner and see a stranger lying on the ground, pinned down with a small boulder on their chest. Bummer 🍑.
Can you understand their pain? Do you sympathise? Empathise? Or feel compassion towards them?
Perhaps you have had a boulder on your chest before. You assume their pain is equal to how yours was. But boulders are like heavy, rocky snowflakes ❄️. Each is one of a kind. Their weight, shape, hopes and dreams. And how it rests upon you is going to be distinctive as well. Given how individuals may have a weak chest, an old injury or countless other conditions and experiences, it makes this situation completely unique.
Sure, most people can recognise that having a boulder on your chest is not ideal 😢. If you're not familiar with boulders (any geologists in the house? 🗻) you may think that this small boulder ain't no problem. Shrug it off and away you go 😎. But boulders can be dense, even small ones can be super painful and difficult to remove.
Knowledge or experience of boulders can help you understand a bit of what the stranger is going through. And may aid in helping you to relieve the pressure of that boulder. But a failed attempt to help, or minor slip could always make the pain of that boulder worse 🤕.
You may be able to understand part of what they are going through, you may know some general methods that usually help but you cannot know what the entirety of their experience is like. And thinking that you can diminishes the individuality you assign to others 🧑🧑🏻🧑🏼🧑🏽🧑🏾🧑🏿.
Big reveal: Boulders could be depression, anxiety, disabilities or hidden conditions. Surprise! Now you can never look at boulders the same way. Soz, you boulder perverts 🧐.
This post started off wanting to talk about the differences between sympathy and empathy. As the post evolved the main points I wanted to write about were:
- Recognise that you can't know what other people's suffering is exactly like.
- You don't have to experience someones suffering yourself, or even part of it to help or feel compassionate towards them. But you do need to learn more about suffering and the individual's suffering.
- You may not realise that some suffering exists, or recognise when people are experiencing it. By learning more broadly about different types of suffering you become less ignorant and better at helping.
As I started to the first few drafts, it quickly became apparent that this post would be huge if I wanted to effectively talk about each idea (and I like my short ones 😛). So I finally cut right back and doubled down on the first point. Maybe I can look at the other ideas in separate posts.
I feel like I missed out on emphasising the "motivation to help", which I think is another important point in this topic. But also it's own post entirely about why we want to help people.