Empathicalism part two

Oh my, I certainly was right when I yesterday expressed the thought that Richard Armitage’s message on cyberbullying would be about empathy. And he had a nice selfie to go with that message as well. 🙂


I enjoyed reading this message and the intent I felt behind it – be good to one another and think before you write. I can totally subscribe to that! He says at the end: “Never underestimate your words. Use them carefully and for the better; if, like me, it’s the kind of society you believe in.” I think that is what I will take away from this message most of all.

As for empathy – I am big on empathy myself! Maybe too much so, which is why I was a relatively popular boss when I was one but not always an efficient one, as I found it difficult to be ‘hard’ on others. I was reminded of that the other day when my husband and I had lunch at this little neighbourhood restaurant where we always make small talk with the boss-lady there. She was telling us how she was competing for a ‘good restaurant’ prize and we commented on how we liked coming there because we felt the staff are so extremely friendly. She said she had to fire one staff member not so long ago who had a borderline disorder. When the boss took the staff member aside and talked to her about some customer friendliness issue, the lady flipped in a ‘borderline’ way and said she was leaving that instant. The boss had told her she couldn’t do that, as she needed to lock up, but the staff lady left anyway. “I had to fire her for that” the boss said and I found myself thinking that I couldn’t have done that. I would have cut this lady some slack because of her borderline situation. That could possibly mean the quality of my restaurant would be a little less high, but I would take that chance. I totally understood the boss lady’s decision (I don’t know, after all, how many chances she had already given this borderline lady) but I also felt for the staff lady. Yeah, tough management positions are not for me… So, empathy, yes, I totally get that! The next step is – what do you do with that empathy? And I think this is where Richard Armitage and I differ somewhat.

Richard says that “our words are our weapons” and I totally agree with that. He then goes on to say, “We must consider the other persons feelings before we express our own, consider how our words wound […] In our own small way we can champion harmony, tolerance, balance and forgiveness.” Although this sounds wonderful and idealistic, it has too much of a ‘turn the other cheek’ feel to me. He also says, “It’s one of the big lessons in life, to leave yourself alone […] When we have this critical inner dialogue with ourselves, we do lean towards turning that outwards, towards the world at large”. Yes, sometimes it is best to let things go, but sometimes it is better to stand up for what you truly believe in your heart. So, where I differ with Richard is that you don’t necessarily have to leave the inner critical voice alone! Listen to it, and yes, turn it outwards if you feel strongly about it, but here’s the crux: do it in a respectful way, without insults and vitriol! Let me give an example…

Xenophobia is a huge thing for me – I am allergic to it! I think nothing enrages me more than xenophobia, the unjust treatment of groups of people that goes with it and not seeing people as individual human beings anymore. Right now, in my world, the most marginalised people are muslims and it seriously enrages me when I hear people like Donald Trump (or like our Dutch politician Geert Wilders) blame Islam for everything that is wrong in the world! I try to feel empathy for Donald and Geert and try to understand where they are coming from. They truly seem to believe the things they say and I totally understand it comes from a place of fear. So, to a certain extent I have empathy for them! I feel their rage and their pain and when I hear whatever latest thing ISIS did, I can understand their anger. In turn, ISIS is xenophobic towards the West and towards those who do not believe in the ‘right Islam’, just as Donald and Geert are xenophobic to all of Islam. And where am I in all this? I just feel enraged at all these people! I read articles and see discussions on Twitter and while it is good to talk about these things, what I mostly see is vitriol, demonization towards the other point of view and generalization. Real discussion is not possible. Quotes get bandied to and fro with a feel of malice towards the other behind it. Real understanding of the other is in no way facilitated. I have had to unfollow accounts because of this, I couldn’t bear it any longer. After election time I may follow them again, but for now I have to leave some stuff alone. In this instance I have chosen to leave it all alone, because I know nothing I could say would make an iota of difference and I would just get vitriol spewed at me. However, if I had felt there was room for understanding, I would not have stayed silent.

If only there were a little more empathy (that word again!) and acceptance that people are in fact all very different. As I am in the West, I would love to truly understand how any reasonably well-educated, intelligent person can even support such a man as Trump. Seriously, if anyone can explain that to me (without reverting to foul language and insults to groups of people) I would truly be interested! One of the best discussions I remember having a long time ago was with a missionary whose views totally opposed my own. For various reasons that I won’t go into here now, I am very much against missionising yet a long long talk I once had with this missionary made me understand why he felt the need to do it. I will never agree with it, we agreed to disagree at the time and I will always speak against it, but at least the need I felt to strangle that person faded away. I came to understand his concerns and he mine, and maybe we both became a little less extreme in our views and things became more harmonious. See, and that’s what is important for me – I have empathy, I want to understand where the other person is coming from, but with that information I want to open discussion and not just ‘turn the other cheek’ and ‘let go’. So, for me, empathy is the beginning of talking, of discussion and of hopefully coming closer together.

Discussion, however, can never work without respecting the other! Empathy can not work just one way, the other needs to be open to you as well. When Richard says “Words are our weapons” he is completely right. You can’t make anyone really listen to what’s in your heart with a gun pointed at them and you can’t make anyone really take you seriously when all you can do is use harsh words and insults. If you show true empathy, I believe that can be the opening to others being empathetic to you. And then the real games can begin… It will never be easy, though, because when you do choose to fight for something you truly believe in, that’s when it gets hard to watch your words and that’s when your words have the most potential to wound! And THAT is when you need to remember to be empathetic. State what you believe but, yes, watch your words and remember that not everyone will think as you do…

I really like when Richard says,  “We believe we are good, and ‘they’ are bad, but what if the bad guys believe they are the good guys and vice versa? What if we are both right and both wrong?”. I think that is the essence and the only way to peace is learning to understand where the other person is coming from and trying to bridge that gap together!

So,  what I would like to add to Richard’s message, which I believe has the best intent possible, is that empathy should lead to constructive discussion in a respectful way. Pick and choose your battles, sure, but don’t always just ‘let it go’ – be willing to be open and talk, really talk, without hatred and lashing out, and with, yes, empathy and maybe through that people will be able to come closer together…


ETA: other interesting responses to Richard’s Forgiveness and Intention blog post for Cybersmile:

23 thoughts on “Empathicalism part two

  1. Thank you for giving your POV on Richard’s message – and expanding on what you took from his letter. I share many of your arguments and believe that empathy is a very useful tool to make the world a better place. Only, it seems to me that those, who are standing for democratic and equal rights, have empathy in abundance and don’t need to be reminded of it, whereas the undemocratic and tyrannical would need empathy but are not receptive to the suggestion. I’d like to be proven wrong.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Servetus

      Preaching to the choir. In terms of our fandom, I think everyone thinks, oh, I am already empathetic, he’s talking about those other people. The problem is that empathy is hardest to extend (like free speech rights) to those who one doesn’t want to empathize with, and those lines are pretty firmly drawn.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. You can only start with yourself, I feel. That’s what I meant when I wrote “If you show true empathy, I believe that can be the opening to others being empathetic to you.” I can’t do anything about others, but I can try to be not judgemental towards others myself, try to make them feel comfortable, and they can maybe open up to me as well. So, for example, when you see a muslim woman with a headscarf, don’t judge her – she’ll be defensive already and will steel herself and be hard towards you. Can you blame her when all she gets is negativity? Open up, compliment her on a lovely scarf, make her feel comfortable and accepted and you’ll get a smile and then maybe can start talking. Be truthfully curious and you will learn that not every woman with a headscarf is subject to man’s will, that she too is emancipated, just in a different way than you are! You will learn that wearing skimpy dresses can be seen as just as female unfriendly and pandering to men as some people think headscarves are.
      In politics, I think demonizing a whole religion works the same way! People will be on the defensive and will lash out. Show some nuance, don’t generalize and make all muslims seem evil and the enemy and you will get a whole lot more of goodwill in return from the many many many muslims who are not radical. Think about it, if someone keeps on attacking everything you are and you believe in, you will only get defensive and lash out as well. This is why people like Donald Trump do not help! They just make the gap bigger and bigger, spewing such hatred and generalization just breeds more radicalism, in my opinion….

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Very wise and true words I feel Esther. Which is why it’s so important that everyone gets a voice a chance to say their piece because until we listen to their whys we have no chance of true dialogue. Love your examples

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think both your examples make great sense. I fully agree and am very much in favour of open and honest dialogue with people who are different from me. I have had extremely interesting conversations with Muslim women and men, and when I hosted a Muslim refugee for a couple of months, I learnt so much about Islam and had to realise that I had internalised many prejudices (even though I have never been anti-Islam – if anything, I am anti-religion, so my reservations apply to all faiths, including Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism etc.)


    1. Hi Esther,
      Thanks for sharing your lovely post which broadens the discussion of empathy and such. And your last image of the two little girls was so charming in its embodiment of RIchard’s and others’ messages of all of us finding greater understanding and sensitivity toward each other.

      I am providing your essay post link here in a comment on my essay on the essay, so that others might also read it when they come to my blog.

      Hugs & Cheers! Grati ;->

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Armitage Weekly Round-up 2016/24 | Guylty Pleasure

  3. Servetus

    Loved this. I’ve been thinking since yesterday about all the ways that empathy got me in trouble at work. I think there are a lot of situations in which expressing empathy is both unnecessary and self-destructive. But in general, I’ve thought that Armitage’s remarks on these issues don’t really recognize or account for the way that women specifically get hit by the insistence that they behave in the ways he suggests. If I had any inkling he realized this, it would make me angry, given how many young women are in this fandom.

    And yeah, there are people I am not going to empathize with. The question of Trump sympathizers is a good one. My dad’s GF is a Trump fan. The only way to deal is to ignore what she says when she goes off on a rant and redirect the conversation, and remind myself actively that she plays an important role in my father’s life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I believe in empathy at all times, I think, but that should never mean that you should forget yourself as well! I think that’s where it goes wrong for many women – we feel a lot of empathy and then put ourselves second… that should NOT happen. Our own feelings are just as important as the other person’s. That’s what I mean about not letting everything go – you can feel empathy but still stand up for yourself as well.
      As for your dad’s GF – yes, that may well be a battle to not take on because as much as you may try to show her some empathy, she will not be open to you and a real exchange will be difficullt. Not much use in going in for that particular battle, it may be better to try and ensure a reasonable working relationship on another level before you delve into politics. But as much as she gushes for Trump, you can maybe gush for your candidate in general, non-confrontational terms. Your feelings are just as valid as hers, after all. 🙂


      1. Servetus

        re women, emphatic YES. And although people say things are different with millennials, after a year of academic advising I am completely unconvinced of that. Many women are still being taught the same lessons about how everyone else’s needs are more important than theirs.

        re: dad’s GF — the problem with the current political situation is that I am a Clinton supporter (so we get it from both sides, because a lot of Sanders supporters hate Clinton). People may hate Trump, but they hate Clinton almost as much as GF certainly does. She’s also an old lady. It’s not something she accesses anymore on a rational level, even if she might have fifty years ago. If I go on about it, I just raise the tension level and put my father into a divided loyalty situation. So I just try to avoid it.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Love the last photo. Made me think of that video a short while ago where a person who was refugee just sat across from a local and they just looked at each other silently for minutes and then talked to each other So touching and effective they both had a think about the person in front of them before talking and I think they probably realised they had potentially more in common than they thought. I wonder if that would work in the real world too? Maybe we’d realise that we’re talking to a human being and not just an opponent sometimes…. I can’t help but think such an approach would have made debates hereabouts more peaceful and meaningful. And you pointed out the one phrasethat for me stood out in his statement that admittedly I only perused in a rush.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post, Esther! You said, “I would love to truly understand how any reasonably well-educated, intelligent person can even support such a man as Trump. Seriously, if anyone can explain that to me (without reverting to foul language and insults to groups of people) I would truly be interested!” Well, I will say right up front that I’m 99% sure that I will not exercise my right to vote this fall, because I have serious problems with all the candidates, and I’m personally disgusted that Trump has won the Republican nomination and has a decent shot at the presidency. That said, I do think I understand where his supporters are coming from, and inasmuch as he’s a political outsider and not entrenched in the seriously corrupt political system that encompasses both sides of the aisle, it’s a position I myself hold, only that Trump is, as you said, far too crass and vitriolic for me to support him. I think some of his supporters certainly sympathize with the vitriol as it applies to radicalized Islamists… who isn’t fed up with the constant threat level of terrorism in our world today? But I think most rational and intelligent adults do realize that the religion as a whole doesn’t deserve to be demonized… so what else is there about Trump that attracts people? I think it’s a combination of 1) the fact that he’s NOT a politician, he’s paying for his own campaign so not seen as beholden to special interests, 2) he has far better business acumen than the average politician, which they hope will be of help to our struggling economy and possibly start to get a handle on what many perceive to be out-of-control and wasteful spending of tax dollars, and 3) I think there are a lot of people who are simply fed up with all the political correctness, of which Trump has, well, zero. LOL! Trump could most definitely learn a thing or two from Richard, when it comes to empathy and respectful discourse!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for this, JHolland!

      Yes, I have heard the arguments before about Donald Trump being outside the political system and being a good business man. The outside the system thing I get. The ‘not beholden to special interests’ argument I get as well and that may be the strongest one in my eyes! But I don’t get the good businessman thing because (call it my own personal prejudice, most probably because of his political in-correctness) I get a feel that he isn’t adverse to corruption, bullying his opponents and getting ahead unfairly – he’ll employ any means to further his own agenda and not in a good way. He’s a good businessman in that he seems to know how to make money, but at what cost? Trump has a way of appealing to people’s base, knee-jerk instincts. I know we all have them, I do too! If someone goes off on a diatribe against Trump, I can almost feel myself cheering on in the first row! But I could never do it to such an extent that I would be attacking others who do not agree with me, as seems to happen at Trump rallys. At least, I hope I wouldn’t…

      If I could vote in the US, it would not be Republican. I’d differ on issues of immigration and gun control and foreign policy and abortion and taxes but that’s OK, those things can be discussed. Trump, however, adds his loud and vitriolic ways to his politics. It’s the arrogant, ‘we are better than anyone else’ stance that gets me. I am sure he has the best intentions for the American people, but, please forgive the comparison, so did Hitler for his people. And Trump isn’t the only one I worry about in that regard. Even Ted Cruz sounded pretty extremist to me. He said somewhere: “Judge each challenge through the simple test of what is best for America, because what is best for America is best for the world”. If that is the case, then please may the world also participate in American elections? That arrogance scares the shit out of me… I have spent a large portion of my life trying to understand far right ideology, because ideology like that has lead to the Holocaust. I mean, I can understand that people are sooooo convinced their way is the only way (I think we all have a bit of that in ourselves, I do too!). But can your beliefs really go that far that you don’t see those outside your group as equal to you anymore? It scares me for myself too, because I always wonder that if I would get caught in such an extremist belief system, would I too close my eyes to other human beings?
      OK, I’m going off on a tangent here, I know. I guess what I am trying to say is that I am trying to get a feel for how it is possible to follow people who question other people’s right of existence, basically. So much arrogance can not lead to anything good.. for me that has been proven often enough in history and is, in fact, being proven right now as well!

      You don’t come across as arrogant and closed off to others, thankfully! You seem like a lovely and warm and fun person and I don’t expect you to understand this vitriol and arrogance any better than I do! But as you live in the US and you are experiencing Trump ‘up close and personal’ in the context of your American life, I just wish I could actually sit down with you in person to talk all these things through, get a real feel for this, instead of just reading words on a screen. But I guess, maybe you wouldn’t be the one to do it with, because you are not a Trump supporter…

      In any case, thank you so much for your thoughts, and for giving me an opening to spew mine!! I welcome more of your thoughts, if you care to share them. Or maybe we should just meet some day. 🙂


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