Despite the ubiquity of social media, there still exists a frustratingly common culture of individualism, of entitlement and a failure to empathise.
Empathy is a beautiful thing, a powerful force for good. Thomas Clarkson, for example, was instrumental in founding the Committee for the Abolition of the African Slave Trade in 1787.
At the time, many saw slavery as an acceptable thing. The view was that the economy depended upon it, much as our current economy is considered to depend upon weapons, oil, carrier bags and those horrific polystyrene food containers takeaways insist on using, and is threatened by those terrible immigrants taking our jobs.
Fear tends to trump empathy.
Anyway, Clarkson published stories about what it was like to be a slave. How it felt to be whipped. He ran meetings and showed people the horrific instruments used in slavery – the chains, the cuffs.
He enabled people to empathise with the slaves. It led to a revolutionary social movement: boycotting of sugar, petitions, protests and, of course, abolition.
Might more people react positively to the plastic bag charge if their gardens and houses were strewn with litter? Would people participate in balloon releases if their meals were dangerously threaded with the detritus?
What of the idea of an empathy museum? Where you can make a t-shirt in a sweatshop and be given 5p for it. Buy a cup of coffee but experience the conditions the person who picked the beans has been through. Where you can borrow people for conversations to understand who they truly are. Realise they’re a person, just like you but with a different background, a different history and a different future.
I’m proud to say I’ve contributed (in a tiny way) towards just such a dream, through the uninhibitive ease of Indiegogo. The Empathy Museum is worth your time.
We can apply these principles to everyday life.
To how we treat our customers, to why we run our businesses, how we manage our staff. Where we source our products and materials, our labourers.
When you approach any activity you have the option to pause to consider how it might affect someone else.
The person you’re tailgating could be on the way to hospital to visit a loved on. The ‘scrounger’ on the street you scorn may have suffered a childhood beyond anything you could ever imagine.
It only takes a moment.