And When We Need Empathy the Most, It Doesn’t Seem to be Working
Let us start at the beginning, what does empathy really mean?
It is “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”
I have always thought of myself as an empathetic person. Putting myself in other people’s shoes is something I do without thinking. Perspective is everything, and I love having the capacity to experience and understand more about the human experience through this skill-set. Using this mindset it feels valid for me to claim that I am an open-minded sex positive individual and in turn coach and help those who are struggling with various aspects of their non-monogamous relationships. It’s difficult to write this, without appearing like I am bragging, but the honest truth is developing empathy was how I survived a difficult childhood. As an only child, moving every 3 years, I had to efficiently learn skills to fit into new situations quickly and without any previous frame of reference. And if you believe in such things, I am a libra, and I have been told this brings a natural balance to my perspective.
Now, to the post at hand. There is a lot going on in the world. People are justifiably angry with, well, pretty much everything. From being forced to isolate, to the disgusting murder of a black man by people of authority, to the fact that it is supposed to be pride month, and quite frankly we have very little to celebrate. All in all 2020, has sucked so far. And being a person with a platform (no matter how small), I believe it is my duty to speak out and show support for all the people who are suffering. But there is a huge problem with this, empathy doesn’t seem to be working.
In all my years of blogging, and being active on social media, never have I felt this total chaos. And by chaos, I mean this completely helpless feeling where everything I do is wrong. Empathy, up until now has always been a strength and has helped me be an ally to the people who truly need it. Now though, people are just so damn angry I am at a loss of how to help. Being silent is never OK, but when I am called out for being “obtuse” due to asking what black charities small businesses can donate to in my local community, it is obvious that anger is at the boiling point. Again, I want to make it clear, that I have complete empathy and want to learn, help, and ensure that racism is extinct from out future. But, I have to say again, I am at a loss of how to do this.
One theme I keep seeing is that activists are exhausted from providing lists, resources, and links to those among us who keep asking what we can do. The frustration seems to be that it is far more important for the white ally to just do some research to find the best charity etc. on their own, thereby taking a more active approach. But I hope you understand, there are many of us who just don’t want to make anymore mistakes or make things worse. I for one, have always been taught never to use race as a means of dividing people. So it goes against everything I know to do a specific Google search for black owned/run companies or charities. It feels, like I am doing something wrong. Why should it matter what race/orientation/ etc. a company is run by? That is the preconception I go into this with. And the confusion doesn’t end there.
When one person says that they don’t want to see any white person use #blacklivesmatter, and another says that “silence in white people is supporting white supremacy” or that unless you have experienced racism you should just shut up and let black people talk, it becomes less and less clear how not to mess this up. I am at a complete loss as to how to be an effective ally. Racism needs to end. All humans should have fair access to healthcare, education, and due process under the law. Equality for all needs to be fought tooth and nail to achieve. So I ask again, please, tell me how I can help?
I would love to boost black authors, sex positive educators, and support in anyway I can. However, I don’t want it to seem like I am just pandering for the here and now. I want desperately for these actions to be meaningful, insight real change, rather than a temporary increase of exposure, unless that’s all you want me to do. I’ve seen call outs for specific contributors, and I am going to be brutally honest, looking for one specific voice has always made me uncomfortable. Again, my bias has always been an open space where anyone should feel comfortable commenting, interacting, or even reading. And if this is not appropriate at this time, I need to know.
Empathy used to be enough. The complete willingness to learn, support, and stand up for what is right has always worked for me, as I said, until now. I’m not rich and famous. I don’t have a lot of resources at my disposal, but I do have my words. I don’t want to remain passive, but I cannot constantly fight for a cause I very much believe in, if I keep getting told I am wrong by the very people I am trying to fight for. Help me learn, do better, and above all, be the ally you need.
If you have a resource or book that you think would help me, and others, please link it in the comments or on social media.