Developing empathy for those we disagree with
If you and I go to the cinema and watch a film together, we would, obviously, be seeing the one, same film. Except, we wouldn’t. Each of us would see something different. How we both view and interpret the plot and the characters would be shaped by our unique life experiences, upbringing, education, family background, culture, and more. None of us, when looking at the same thing, ever see the same thing.
This is true for everything in life. What’s hard, though, is learning to appreciate this truth and to understand its significance.
So much of the ugly tone to political debate, both here and in the US, is shaped by our inability — or, worse, our unwillingness — to see how others see.
It takes a high level of self-awareness to appreciate that our own way of seeing is not the only way. And even more to see how, in light of where the other person or group of people is coming from, their conclusions may be as reasonable as our own.
Social media makes is easy to turn alternative viewpoints into mere sound bites to mock. We view everything through black and white filters: we’re right, you’re wrong; we’re good, you’re evil.
And yet, if we can only throw accusations of stupidity or evil at those we disagree with, we reveal more about ourselves than those we disagree with. We show ourselves to have no empathy; no willingness or ability to see, hear, and understand a different point of view.
We have to learn to view the world through the eyes of those who come from a different place than us. Until we learn to do this — and it’s a skill we choose to learn — the quality of our debate as a society is going to keep getting worse.
If humanity is going to thrive as we move further into the twenty-first century, we must get better at this.