An Empathetic Divide

the seasons

She put a ‘the’ before depression as though ‘depression’ could be substituted with ‘plague’. Filthy tones crept quietly from her lips as she tried with her greatest might to whisper when uttering the phrase. It was as though she feared those whom overheard would catch a drop of the illness, or worse yet misinterpret that it was actually she who was under that cloud.

‘The Depression’: a foul, mythical state ridden with down-trodden dismay and disapproval. She made it sound like it was something to be prodded with a barge pole rather than understood, rather than interacted with. Like a rotting carcass by the roadside, left only for the vultures to toy with, meaningless and not even worth the full breath of the word.

‘Cultivate your empathy’ is a phrase that Kate Tempest tells me to live by, each time I see her. But what is one to do if so far detached from connecting to honest emotion that all hope of immersing oneself in empathy is rendered impossible? It’s painfully obvious but hidden in plain sight: if we don’t understand our own emotions, how can we even being to understand another’s?

So I looked upon this woman who spoke of depression with such disdain and questioned why it was that she had created such distance between herself and this condition. I wondered where her compassion was and why she uttered the word ‘depression’ with an essence of taboo. What had created such hostility?

I don’t know her story and at this point really all I can do is speculate why she was of the opinion she appeared to be, but I was glad at the time that I tried to understand her, at least. She reacted towards depression in a way that I never would, but I was proud to do my best at being empathetic in that moment by trying to put myself in her shoes.

This is my cultivation, as it were. Just because we don’t understand something, does not mean that we need to run and hide from it, or worse feel that because we don’t yet know about it, surely it is not worth learning about. This is completely egotistical. We would do far better to learn from those familiar with the topics we know little about than scurry away and stick our heads in the sand. There is much growth and mental expansion to be had by learning from one another and it is what is going to save us from ourselves in the end.

As a scientist by trade, it can be considered the foundation of scientific practice, in that you don’t take no for an answer. It is so frowned upon in the scientific community to put your hands up to the sky and admit defeat, admit that you as a human do not know the vast workings of the universe. There must always be another theory, another hypothesis to drive forward an investigation.

The scientists I admire most are those who know when to respect the practice of learning unto itself: there is always more to follow; a plethora of facts we don’t know. Admitting defeat is really the start of further education into a problem you want to solve. Admitting defeat opens you up to the absorption of information that can shed greater light.

We are cultivating destruction at present, by embracing hostility and isolation. It’s an ‘us and them’ rather than ‘we are one’ scenario. However, if we all tried to understand why we feel the way we do about things; we’re en route to learning how to do the same for others and therefore practice empathy. Remove ego and assumptions from the equation and there is open space for new lessons to come in.

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