A Little Empathy Won’t Kill Us

Recently Minnesota Public Radio ran a column about the responses of people to the news that a pedestrian and a bicyclist were struck and killed in two different areas by a light-rail train. The focus of the column was how people were responding with a “serves them right” attitude, without thinking about the feelings of the family and friends of these victims. I’m sure we have all seen those kinds of posts, where something tragic has happened, and you see people blaming the victims.

Why do people make those kinds of comments? I believe it’s lack of self-awareness. Most of us aren’t aware that everything we say is either “please” or “thank you”. Everything. When we say something we are either sharing our appreciation for something that has happened, or making a request. And it’s good to remember that everything we say has everything to do with ourselves, not the other person. Something we have seen or heard may have stimulated some thoughts and feelings in us, often unconscious, that causes us to respond in a way that is either asking/demanding or thanking. But it’s still just about us.

I opened my Facebook page this morning and the first post was a news article about the boy in the bubble in the early 1970’s, and the first comment was exactly what I’m talking about. “The saddest part of this story is that his parents were dumb enough to produce him after they lost a previous child to the same thing.” And more comments continued: “Oh and don’t forget the free government help that the family’s get because of their defective offspring.” “Selfishness.” Some people will say they are just being honest. Saying what you are thinking, and being self-aware are often two different things. All three of the people above are expressing frustration, but we would have to guess at their unmet needs. Perhaps the first person would like to trust that parents would only choose to have healthy children. If a doctor advises parents against having children, that they would honor that. That second person sounds angry, and perhaps wants to be sure that his tax money is used wisely. The third person, I’m guessing would also like to trust that parents make altruistic decisions when it comes to having children.

All of those are valid needs, but would you expect the family of this child to meet those needs? In other words, when we post on social media we are yelling our needs to the whole world. I wonder if we could be more self-aware about whom we are yelling our needs to? Again, some would say, well it’s social media; they put it out there. But many times we are making comments like the above to news articles, or some type of media that the people involved had nothing to do with.

I also wonder if deep down inside all of us have this belief that if we just follow the rules, live life right, we will never suffer. When we see suffering, we get angry because they must not have followed the rules. Not only that, but we are telling ourselves that they now expect us to be responsible for them.

What would it give me if people were more self-aware when they communicated? Ease and connection. When people aren’t self-aware it takes effort on my part to hear their feelings and needs under what they are saying. It is worth the effort, but I long to have communication with others that is easier. It is also so fulfilling to connect with someone on that level, to share what is alive for each other in that moment. I would love to see that kind of commenting in social media.


“If I cannot be with you in your reality, it is because I cannot be with something within me that has been stirred.” Chiara Guerrieri

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