Discussing in class yesterday really made me realize the issues we have on campus. I found that when I sat down to write a blog post I was focused more on empathy and noticing the suffering of people around me, but in my daily life I rarely changed my way of thinking. I continued to almost block out my own troubles and shift my attention away from the suffering of those around me because it was easier than actually having to deal with something. Maybe its something that could be improved over time if you continued to really concentrate on noticing, but could one person noticing make a difference? How could you convince everyone else in the world to empathize in the same way if thats the only way to make real global change. As a college student, how much of it is our responsibility? I always try to make a difference in my own community first and just hope that everybody else will do the same and eventually the world will transform into a better place. But then I see terrorist attacks and immense human health suffering and I realize I am way to idealistic in my thinking. Its disheartening because I can only do so much for change. I can only hope that my noticing and effort to improve my surrounding will rub off on others, but who is to say if it will
Sometimes I just google global health issues and switch to the news tab just to try and stay current on the issues facing the world today. I am inevitably overwhelmed by the gross amounts of inequity and the basic health issues the world faces, many of which we are immune to in the US. And then I read an article like this one: https://www.devex.com/news/how-climate-change-affects-malnutrition-87328
The article discussed how environmental changes will impact poverty and malnutrition in the coming years if we keep the pace we are currently at. I can only imagine how worse off the developing countries will be if something is not done to curb the effects of environmental change. I then imagine myself 50 years in the future googling the same thing and I am disturbed by the news I fear I will face.
I recently saw an article on Facebook that Nigeria had banned FGM, although it turns out this actually happened back in June. When googling for the article so I could read more, I discovered that I was completely unaware these practices occurred outside Africa and the Middle east, where we learned they often exist. I saw articles about FGM in the UK, Ireland, across Europe, and in America. When reading an article about America I learned that FGM was only made illegal in 1996, and “vacation-cutting”, or taking children to another country to receive FGM, was only made illegal in 2013. Additionally, only 24 states have adopted their own version of the federal law. This just seemed almost unbelievable to me. We often see our own country as a place where these injustices never occur, but that level of unawareness is detrimental to stopping the violence that occurs within our own boundaries. I just always feel its important to take a look in the mirror before we go out an try to solve the inequities of the world.
Whenever a new controversy arises in the news, college students are very often the first to take part in generating national movements. Maybe its because of our undying need to create a better society for our future or our powerful connection with social media, regardless, college students love rallying together for a cause. Sometimes, these causes turn out to be empty promises of change (Kony 2012 anyone?) but sometimes I feel like we’re on the verge of something new. This past year and a half has seen radical changes in awareness within the racial discrimination movements. Colleges all over the country stood in solidarity yesterday, so it got me thinking. What do these movements actually do and how do outward portrayals of empathy help? I’m very aware that people experience empathy in different manners; some like to outwardly show their empathy and involvement in a movement by wearing certain colors, posting things on social media, holding meetings/protests, etc. Others prefer to feel their empathy in their own bodies, offering silent prayers or making a conscious effort to act in the way they want others to act in hopes that it will be passed on. I’ve always been curious which actually “works better” in terms of improving society. Is it even possible to reach the ears of every person with loud movements? Or will this turn people off from the cause? Is staying silent like ignoring the issue? Perhaps a combination of both would serve society better, or maybe people should stick to their guns and express empathy in whatever way they feel.
Thinking about empathy this week made me remember a movie I watched in high school called the Human Experience. It was a documentary that features two brothers going around the world and essentially living as the “other”. First, they live on the streets of NYC for a week in one of the harshest winters on record, then they travel to Peru and spend time in a orphanage and hospital, finding hope where they could not imagine hope to be, and finally they travel to Ghana to visit an outcast leper community. What these men did exemplifies empathy in a way that I could not even fathom. It explores human dignity and shows that even in what I would imagine to be the darkest of human experiences, there is still light.
Its always weird how refreshed I feel when I leave campus for a weekend. I can return with a new sense of how to look at the environments around me. Things seems brighter, newer, and easier to handle. The leaves look more beautiful and the library less grim.
Sometimes when I need to get away from campus, I drive up to Breadloaf and just look at all the changing leaves. I find it hard to believe that in a few short weeks the leaves will all be gone and the mountains will instead be covered with snow. Its a little ominous to think about the leaves disappearing but I can’t help myself from thinking about their fleeting beauty. They live such short lives.
I always find the middle three weeks of the semester to be the toughest. We’re beyond the initial weeks of intro and finally into the hardest topics of each class – the topics that require the most time. But were not quite in the last third of the semester where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and professors seem to be more understanding of work loads. Somehow, without fail, it seems as if all my assignments are due on the same day every semester. So when I’m spending another late night in the lib, dreading the 5:40 alarm I see on my phone, I contemplate giving up on the whole homework thing. I can see the people around me, visible stress on their faces. There’s a certain solidarity between people at 2 am, a mutual understanding. Its at these times I tend to focus on my breathing more. I swear deep breaths are the only thing that help me finish that last paper after officially being awake for 20 hours.
Walking around campus I often notice how many people are looking down – either at their phones or even just at the ground. Whatever it is, its constantly avoiding eye contact with people you don’t know. Occasionally people look up to say hi to a friend or nod to an acquaintance, but we would never dare make eye contact with someone we don’t know. Even in the dining halls its the same. Nobody would sit down with people you don’t know, were constantly looking for the comfort of our own friends. Even if someone is sitting alone, they pull out a laptop or a reading to make it seem like they’re busy at work despite the fact that they may not be. It’s interesting to think about why we are so afraid of meeting someone new, or even just looking at them and offering a smile.