Text by Carina Parke
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
When injustice and inequality shape our society, we actively need to fight against everything dividing us. Empathy and solidarity can be the fundament of the bridge which connects us again.
“Why” is often all that is left. Like a bad aftertaste, like the unintentional product of desperation that is useless when there is no satisfying answer anyways. “Why” is that rhetoric question that quietly follows many incidents, which freeze our blood, and dynamics that are rooted in hate and lack of understanding. “Why” is the first and last thing that comes in mind when we hear about yet another black person who has been killed by white police officers, when there is still no justice for Breonna Taylor and so many others. When we learn about government-run detention centers to suppress the Uyghur Muslim minority in China, about the refugee camp in Moria called “living hell” where humans live in inhumane conditions, about people of the LBTQI+ community fleeing from Poland because hostility against them grows, about sexual violence that estimated one in three women has to experience at least once in their lifetime or about activists like Nasrin Sotoudeh and Germain Rukuki who are in arrest because of their fight for humanity. Or even when we talk about everyday life and how (cyber)bullying and marginalization can make it for individuals almost unbearable.
Just a few examples of many which show that the world we are living in hurts. And again, the “why” remains. But maybe we have to shift the question at this point and ask: What can be done? Well, since everyone should answer that by themselves, the work for unity will always start from within, it starts with ourselves, with self-reflection that turns into action the society can benefit from. It will always be you as an individual who gets the ball rolling or who is part of something, even if it is big or small. It is about the decisions you make. You decide where you put your focus to grow, what you talk or be silent about, how much you are willing to learn, even if the new information will make you feel uncomfortable with your old views and habits. Yes, it is about decisions because however you choose to live and keep on living, will affect your surroundings. “Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your values, your values become your destiny“, Mahatma Gandhi said. So you have the power to change everything from beliefs to your destiny and its effects on others at any point in your life.
This brings us to certain values that are important on our journey to unity. Because why would someone take on the difficult road and work on themselves, if nothing moves them? So we should talk about empathy, in this case about the affective and cognitive one. Latter is about the ability to understand the emotions of others, without necessarily sharing them. This is especially important when it comes to realities of life that one doesn’t live and therefore can’t know what it feels like. Nevertheless, a person can be understanding instead of not acknowledging someone else’s feelings. Affective empathy whereas is about sharing other emotions. It can hurt, yes, but in a healthy amount, it can also be an essential drive to take on certain injustices from which one is not affected. So as a mix of self-awareness and awareness of the other, empathy can be a key to understanding and responding to something in an appropriate way.
If empathy is the engine, solidarity is the car that drives us to unity. In a world full of injustice and growing inequality, solidarity is a significant human quality, which is based on commitment as well as on obligation towards other members of our society. It leads to sticking together as a collective but also to standing up for someone else and supporting them because of mutual interest. Again, it is obviously something that can only come from within you, which brings us back to self-reflection.
We believe that values like empathy and solidarity are nothing that is set, nothing static, but something that can always be encouraged and strengthened. Therefore, we want to start our first theme series on GASH Magazine with the main topic “Values on the rise: Empathy and solidarity as the basis of unity” and talk about the different facets of compassion, understanding, and awareness to make a plea for social connections. Because only if we listen to different voices, get to know different stories, and start thinking inclusive as well as intersectional, we can open up and create the world we want to live in.
This article is part of the GASH theme series „Values on the rise: Empathy and solidarity as the basis of unity“.