Pity is the one emotion we have all given, received, and seen. But many haven’t realized that pity is related to an expression of dominance or power more often than not. The strong will pity the weak; the satiated will pity the hungry, and the rich will pity the poor. Very rarely, I, for one, have never seen it, do the roles reverse. And we need to ask ourselves is why not!
I am no expert, but I do think somewhere the answer lies in the way our grief, sorrow, mishaps, heartbreaks have been resolved or remain unresolved so far. I have faced them, much like you, and barring a few occasions, all I got was a useless pity. So, when my time came, I started giving the same back to people.
I was full of the ‘there there’ attitude coupled with a false sense of sorrow for the other. But I never really responded from the perspective of the ‘aggrieved’ because I automatically responded from my entitled self, my position of dominance because I felt me, whereas I needed to feel them. Pity as an emotion is quite outdated, and the last thing one needs during a hard time.
An approach that will have a better impact, especially in today’s time, is empathy. And today more than ever. Why? Because one can show pity from afar or a tilted stance for the ‘aggrieved’ other. Pity is what you show for those 60 seconds when you’re at a red light in your car to a street-connected homeless child, or when you hear about a colleague’s pink slip but you’re in safe hands, or when you see a child serving you tea at a local stall. But, what good does that do, you still drank that tea, didn’t you?
On the other hand, empathy is a feeling that may lead you to take action and go beyond your comfort zone, reach out, ask for a name, message a colleague, hear the other person out that is what we need today. We need an altered perspective.
Today, the world is in absolute turmoil, and we are faced with new challenges daily, with a compounding effect. We suffer from a pandemic, rising inequalities, climate change, locust swarms, oil spills, forest fires, and more. And this is apart from daily struggles, mental health, physical health, job loss, and the sudden termination of contact.
We are all equals as people who are affected but differ, especially in our privilege, our sorrows, and our needs. Today, we need to give rise to empathy. “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” The pandemic isolated us from our loved ones and isolated many who are invisible to us.
As we drag ourselves into the ‘new normal’, we need to alter the way we respond or reciprocate. We need to change our approach in dealing with others, in cognizance of how they have been impacted. Think about, say, a child on the street? How will you react when they walk up to you or knock on your window? Will you walk away with pity in your eyes or show some empathy and do as little as asking for a name?
Whatever you do, before you react, think about how life has been on the streets and what it is like to live on the street and survive off the street? And then respond. Lasting thought! Pity is a reaction, but empathy is a response. And there lies a critical difference between the two. The choice is yours really, but someone is waiting for you to roll down your window!