Hello From The Other Side...of Privilege.
So, is true empathy possible?
"I know you're not a bad person...ok". That's what the love of my life told me.
That one statement said so much and there were so many things running through my mind but I didn't know how to respond.
I escaped into my head and I was bombarded with a plethora of conflicting thoughts which began to form knee-jerk responses and that's when I realized that my responses were coming from a place of privilege.
Let me back up a little. For the hope of an unbiased thought process from my readers, in a generalized retelling, I will recap the source of the disconnect between my spouse and I.
I was on social media and I came across a meme that was offensive. My spouse, not knowing what I was looking at, asked me a simple "yes or no" question about it, which didn't require any additional statements, just "yes or no".
"Is that a picture of a…*"? (*Insert any object that wouldn't have led to an argument)
If I had have just answered the question, I could've continued scrolling down my timeline and that would've been the end of that. I, instead, not only answered the question but also proceeded to elaborate on WHAT I WAS actually looking at.
"Why did you find it necessary to read that to me? Don't you know how hearing something like that is so offensive to me?" I heard said in disgust.
I, too, was offended by it, but what I didn't take into consideration at that moment is that my same feeling of offense is different and that is because the target of the offensive statement is the demographic that my spouse belongs to.
My spouse then proceeded to mention (not maliciously) other things that I have said or done that when combined with this latest instance can now be viewed as offensive. I was also informed that I had the privilege of benefitting from things that doesn't apply to everyone and although I may be the subject to some discrimination, there is always someone under me that has it worse.
Now back to my internal battling thoughts…
1."I am offended as well, don't be mad at me. Let's both be mad at the original poster and the creator of the meme."
2."You know me and you know that's not how I think."
3."You have to know that, we are in this together and it is just as equally offensive to me as it is to you."
4. "Really… "MY privilege" negates MY struggle!"
5."The struggle is real for both of us and the things that I go through are just as bad, so you should understand and know that I would never not be able to empathize with how you're feeling because I feel the same way.
All of those thoughts sounded right to me but they were so wrong and actually were even more offensive. Even with empathy, we are limited by the confines of our differences ranging from the minute details of those differences to the social constructs we are placed in. This made me realize that even though I feel I truly empathize, I cannot feel the EXACT same way.
In society, we are segmented by our differences, and the top two parameters of this marginalization are race and sex. The core of the issue that my spouse and I were dealing with was bigger than us and what it represented was a struggle that we as a world have yet to solve.
In our world, the idea of selfless love and equality seems like simple concepts that can be easily implemented but it is not easy. "Why?" It is because the idea is considered too big…too macro. It is easy to say that we are all humans, it is even easier to encompass all living beings on this planet and say that we are all inhabitants of this world, however on a micro level it is close to impossible to harmonize under the umbrella of unification because we place a ranking system on what and/or who is most important on this planet.
This one culture is the most important culture.
This one race is the most important race.
This one gender is the most important gender.
This one species is the most important species.
This list of rankings can go on indefinitely depending on how far you want to drill down and how many details you want to sift through. Systemic problems at a macro level can and regularly does impact interactions on a micro level.
What can also happen is because of this ranking system, the privilege extended to those at the top of the totem pole limits empathy from the other direction as well, which creates a cycle of everyone feeling, misunderstood and mistreated.
A person from Country A can see the plight of people from Country B and empathize with them and vice versa but depending on each country's proverbial rank and individual circumstances, an underlying embodiment of apathy which flows both ways can be a wedge that perpetuates separation.
The same thing is applicable for genders.
These disconnects have put into place a feeling of "no one ever truly knowing how anyone feels". So how do we tackle this? There is not a one-size fixes all answer. All I can say is that there has to be a starting point to deal with it. We can start by first trying our best to always take into consideration our own particular privileges and checking them at the door before we attempt to empathize with anyone's plight that's directly impacted by that privilege.
I know that can be difficult to swallow, especially, if you are of the mindset that you deal with problems too. It is not wrong to feel that you deserve empathy as well, neither is it wrong to have a privilege. I am not saying the problems you have aren't important, but there has to be a start somewhere and the best place to start is at the front of the line. The goal is create a replicable chain reaction down the ranks. This action can set a precedent—not of establishing fairness but selflessness and love; Fairness and equality are not the ingredients, they are the end results.