empathy and silence

I was in management communications class last Friday and the prof mentioned that the use of technology is causing us to have less empathy. She spoke about how we are so glued on our phones that we ignore our friends in front of us. Meeting for dinner only to browse Instagram while the food arrives etc.

I looked up the definition of empathy. It is a noun, defined as “the ability to share and understand the feelings of others”. I thought to myself, is it really the use of social media and phones, or our prioritization of social media and phones as being more important than human beings? Does the first lead to the second because we are reliant on our phones, and not as immediately reliant on the people in front of us?

Are we unable to empathize because we weren’t brought up in the same ways as our parents were, playing in the kampungs, or do we actively choose to not listen because it is easier and much more comfortable to live in our own cocoons. What causes humans to have more empathy, what lessens our tendencies to want to understand and share the life of another human being?

There are many articles online on how luxury causes people to be less empathetic. There is also a concept of neuroplasticity which supports the practice of volunteerism to increase empathy in people. Empathy can also be trained through mindfulness meditation, or seeking out activities that make you physically uncomfortable. It is an interesting concept to me because apparently, having more empathy can make you happier in life, and a better person. Better as in kinder, friendlier, more able to understand and cooperate with others.

I am someone who has always felt a few degrees removed from the lives of other people. I literally don’t know how to empathise with strangers, unless that person is below the age of three and looks very huggable. Friends are just strangers in the past, and best friends are strangers of a very-far-behind past. Maybe what has happened in the past- that long period of solitude, even now with my trips to the TCM practitioner- has built a wall that I can’t quite see around, but maybe I don’t quite care for something to increase the feeling of being connected to other human beings.

It is like the quality of silence. I value a sort of cool and dark silence. The silence I get at the beach with the waves lapping at the rocks and there’s no one around me, and even the birds are quiet.

It is like 2pm mugging sessions in school with no one sitting at the tables around me, it is the silence in my head when I am reading Lolita on the train. And no one reads on trains anymore.

It is the silence between text messages, people taking the time to give a carefully considered and elaborate reply, and not just ‘hahahaha’ which by the way, if you do it one too many times, I will block you. Not because I am not your friend, but because I hate meaningless texters.

But good silence is hard to find now. The new shopping malls that will pop up, the schools that are going through renovation, the new franchises that will sell Made in America clothing and of course, the new iPhone in September. Everything is new and loud. I can’t go to a website to read their articles without a pop-up saying “an email a day to keep the boredom away” (refinery29) and I thought, okay someone out there has a boring life every day. That is seriously disturbing.


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