The path to compassion and empathy
I’m a huge believer in the power of imagination. A healthy and positive imagination is one of the paths to a life of awareness, fulfilment and freedom. With imagination comes freedom of choice with choice comes personal power. Imagination puts us in the driver’s seat of our own lives. What it does even more than that is foster empathy. Empathy is not possible without imagination. We need to be able to “walk in another person’s shoes” in order to get a sense of what they might be experiencing. We can only do that in our mind’s eye. We will never be really able to live another person’s life. It will always be coloured with our own sense of the world.
A few years back Australian Greens Senator Rachel Siewert had a go at living on the income of the dole (or Newstart allowance). She did it for one week to get to understanding of what it might be like and in a bid to attempt to persuade other sides of politics to raise the allowance by $50 per week. She wanted to get a feeling of what it might be like to have to budget down to the cent. Of what it might be like to have to prioritise paying for food for the kids over paying the rent. What she got was a sense of temporary discomfort. She would never really understand what it would be like to be born into a family that had no sense of being able to move beyond the dole, no sense of the generational poverty that many people live with. She may have however, been able to stimulate her imagination enough to start to develop some empathy for them. At least she gave it a go.
So what does it take for us to truly have empathy, or to truly imagine what another person’s life is like?
We are certainly not being given many positive role models from our political leaders in Australia in empathy at the moment.
The veil of secrecy surrounding the asylum seekers plight at the hands of the Australian government is testament to that. There is no imagination at work here. There is no compassion and there is no empathy. There is abuse and there is vilification. There is injustice and there is downright anti-human behaviour.
As the world is getting smaller from some perspectives – we can be in touch with other people so easily; we can see through the power of video and interact through social media. It seems to me that the chasms between the haves and the have nots and the righteous and those without rights has grown to the point that we are blinkered to even start to understand what another person is going through, let alone open our hearts to have compassion, let alone imagine how that might feel enough to have empathy.
I’ve never been homeless. I have never had to flee from anywhere for fear of my life. I have been in a couple of hairy situations, but I have always thought that the county I lived in and the system that I lived under supported at least my rights to be alive (if not my right to marry, but that’s another story). I can, even if only slightly and a little bit, imagine what that must feel like. I can’t imagine what it must be like, but I can imagine how it might feel, and I strive to do just that. I want to actively stimulate my imagination. I want to stretch it and exercise it, bend it and grow it. I want to expose myself to many different people so that I can inform my imagination with more 3 dimensional tactileness. I want to expose myself to new things, to different things, to other opinions, to other adventures, listen to stories and join in on conversations about topics I know nothing about. I want to grow my imagination – not for me – but so I can grow my empathy, so that I can make more of a difference.