Empathy Makes the World Go Round

“Some people think only intellect counts: knowing how to solve problems, knowing how to get by, knowing how to identify an advantage and seize it. But the functions of intellect are insufficient without courage, love, friendship, compassion, and empathy.
— Dean Koontz
And here’s another quote on empathy.  This one’s from Meryl Streep:  “The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy.”   I’d like to finish the thought off with “But empathy, like all other gifts a human being may have, is wasted if you don’t put it to use.”
What, you may ask, does empathy have anything to do with postpartum depression, the topic to which I’ve devoted my blog?  Postpartum depression (PPD), like depression and any other mental health disorder, is widely misunderstood in large part due to the fact that those who’ve never experienced it will never know what it’s like and will never be able to understand or even empathize with a PPD sufferer—unless of course, they experience it themselves.  Not being able to understand or empathize with someone who has PPD, depression or any other mental health disorder serves to increase a feeling of isolation for those who are suffering and hence keep these individuals from speaking up due to feelings of shame.   In general, those things that people don’t understand cause people to judge, label, criticize and keep away.   But that’s the last thing a mom with PPD needs.  We see a mom who looks down and needs help, we should offer her support without being judgmental. 
What we need is a culture of empathy, rather than a culture of me, me, me and who cares what’s going on around me with other people.  What we have now is people who–and this is one of many reasons why I’m blogging about this topic right now–don’t give a you-know-what about the pain and suffering of other individuals.  And it’s all because they just know what they know and there is no other way of thinking and behaving than how they think and behave.  Which means that they know that all mothers are supposed to be glowing and happy, and if they’re not, then they’re bad mothers.  Snap out of it.  There’s no such thing as depression.  It’s mind over matter.  Yeah, whatever. 
Here’s another example of our general lack of empathy.  The number of people trashing Amy Winehouse and their disdainful, self righteous, disrespectful, and nasty comments pissed me off, and the thought of blogging about that has been brewing within me ever since the day I, along with many others, was shocked and dismayed to learn of her death.  I don’t think I need to say it, but it’s very disrespectful to criticize a person after they’ve passed on, especially when they haven’t the foggiest idea what sort of demons this person was truly having to deal with.   People were saying things like she had it coming to her because she chose to continue drinking and doing drugs, refusing to go to rehab.  How do they know that she refused to get help?  And for that matter, how do they know what was tormenting her and how bad she really felt?  People were saying she decided to not go to rehab and obviously didn’t care and neither should anyone else, for that matter.  These same cold-hearted critics shook virtual fingers and heads at people writing or voicing their sympathy, saying things like “alcoholism and drug addiction aren’t illnesses, that’s plain bullshit.”    Yeah, okay, then.  You know everything.  Whatever. 
Well, there is a correlation between alcoholism and drug addiction with mood disorders in that drinking and drugs may be a means for self medication for some who are suffering from depression and who many not know it.  They may not know the right way of getting help.  Or there is a horrendously long lead time (like there is in the U.S.) of several months to even get an appointment with a therapist…which is ridiculous and something I wold love to blog about later.  What innocently starts at one drink can go to two to three drinks and more in order to help forget the pain that one is feeling….or one pain med or mixture of pain meds to try to rid themselves of their mental pain….and before you know it, they are addicted….or even worse, accidentally overdose.  Sounds like Heath Ledger, one of my favorite actors, and some other actors/musicians we know…
Not everyone drinks or takes drugs to ease mental pain.  I mentioned in previous posts that I spent the first 35 or so years of my life unhappy, and yet I didn’t drink until I was 21, I never picked up a cigarette, and I never touched drugs.  I didn’t have any form of counseling, though it probably would have helped ease the pain I was going through.  I didn’t have anyone empathetic to turn to, period.  No friends, parents or others in my life to turn to.  Sad, but if it weren’t for my experience then and my experience with PPD, I would not be able to empathize with others in a similar situation.  I would not “get it” like I “get it” today.  My eyes wouldn’t be wide open.   My lids would be drawn, all dark and clueless. 
I’ve seen friends debate on Facebook whether one is born with empathy or it is learned.   I’ve seen many articles written on the topic as a consequence of the recent bullying incidents.  I’ve blogged about empathy in the past, and here I am again.  After all, it’s empathy–in addition to kindness– that makes the world go round.   But then again, so would world peace and look where we are with that.  Anyway, there is so much untapped potential if parents and schools all did their part and taught our children empathy.  Yes, I do believe empathy can be learned.  I believe empathy is a component of behavior, and behavior is driven in part by genetics and the environment in which one is raised.  I also believe that some people are born with the ability to be more empathetic than others. 
Forget prejudism, judging, criticizing, back stabbing, gossiping, bullying, and other sorts of hateful behavior.  Let’s raise our children to care and to be kind…..kind of like children are–friendly with everyone– until between the ages of 6-8 when they start forming cliques, opinions, and atittudes.  Click here for a recent article titled “Teaching Empathy to the ‘Me’ Generation” by Eric Leake. 
After all, the fate of our world’s future lies in our children’s hands. 

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