Not Everything's About You, and That's Okay

We all can be a bit selfish. There. I said it. We totally can, especially at this time in our lives when for the most part, the events and things in our lives need to be about us. We’re all paying for an education to secure our own future, working a job so we can pay for our own food or fun, maybe even trying to find a good partner to date that fits what we want out of a relationship. While here at University, you’re here for you, and most of the time it’s important that you focus on and take care of yourself so you succeed. Additionally, every event that you experience is perceived in relation to yourself, through your eyes and your senses. It’s nearly impossible to disconnect a situation from the way you perceive things.

However, that mindset is a slippery slope towards a perspective that assumes everything  happening around you is happening to you. It’s not. It’s easy to focus on yourself so much so that you forget the people around you, that you forget to empathize and sacrifice for others. In my opinion, that might be the worst and easiest thing to do.

 

Empathy is “the ability to understand and appreciate another person’s feelings, experiences, etc.” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. This is not to be confused with sympathy, which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary as well, is “the quality or state of being thus affected by the suffering or sorrow of another; a feeling of compassion or commiseration”. Basically, sympathy is feeling with someone (the “there, there” response) but empathy goes so much deeper; empathy is feeling into someone, projecting your experiences into someone else’s experience, your personality into theirs, truly connecting with someone else when you’ve “been there”.

In my opinion, we all have “been there” and we can all relate in more ways than we think to the person next to us. However, our empathy is psychologically limited and this is where our selfishness plays a huge role. According to Peter Wicks from Ethical Technology, in his article “What is Empathy and why is it important”, “nature has selected us to have a capacity, albeit limited, for empathy because such a limited capacity helps us to steer our way through our social environment in the way that best serves our interest” (2012, para. 7). Despite originally developing for survival and good psychological health, our limit on empathy has created a chasm between ourselves and the world. This is something that can easily separate and prevent us from understanding others needs above our own, even if our needs are much less dire than someone theirs.

Wicks goes on to contend that “By extension, a capacity to be selective in our empathy allows us to be selective in our willingness to do so”(2012, para. 7), meaning he believes we choose when we’re empathic or not. We’re choosing to be un-empathic without knowing it. If you take your frustration out on any customer service rep, cop an attitude with the Starbucks cashier because the line was too long, or maybe even play music or be loud when someone is studying or trying to sleep, you’re choosing to be un-empathetic. If your friend is dealing with a difficult situation and needs alone time in a public space, and you put any of your “needs” (like a snack, or pencil, or notebook or studying) above their need for self-care, you’re putting your needs and desire for convenience above their wishes for solitude. Yes. It can get that specific and that minute.

Life is full of inconveniences and “knockouts”, crises that hit hard out of the blue and turn your life upside down; they are hard to deal with. We hope that when we’re down and out, others will empathize and help us out. But a long line? A frustrating phone call? A messed up drink/food order? Not even in the same ballpark as a knockout and not the end of the world, so don’t act like it is. You’re not the only one being affected by those frustrating situations; there will always be someone else dealing with it too. Repeat: You’re not the only one, and that’s okay.

By putting someone else before you, you’re keeping the world in perspective and your reality grounded; the world isn’t “out to get” any specific person, the world is the world and sh*t happens.

Nobody is perfect all the time, in fact, I think it’s pretty darn hard to break out of our “me” mindset. This, however, shouldn’t be an excuse to not think of others or an explanation for inconsiderate behavior. Our ability to connect, comfort, relate, and help others is what makes us human, take that away and we’ll begin to live half-lives. Dejected, unsatisfying, unfulfilling lives that fail to make true connections and sacrifices for others, no matter how big or small, that show how vast our care for others can be. So my call to change? Choose to be empathetic. Choose to think of others and choose to be kind. You have the choice to expand the limits of your empathy; your decision to do so will say so much about your character and perspective on what is important and what is a big deal. It’s not always about you, and that is so okay.

 

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