The Beatles once sang “All you need is love.” I disagree. All you need is empathy.
So many things wrong with the world right now could be solved if people stopped reacting and started empathizing.
For example, a FB friend posted a Fox News video about Washington state potentially offering “gender X” on newborns’ birth certificates. This person said doing this was ridiculous. I replied that I thought it was interesting. Certainly it’s new, and it’s something that hasn’t been done yet (to my knowledge). In light of the fact that trans people do exist and more and more people identify as gender queer, I think it’s wonderful that Washington state will allow parents let their child develop without some of the stereotypical, gender-based roles, toys, clothes, etc…
Some of this person’s FB friends that I’m not familiar with started telling me why I was wrong. “Boys are born with boy parts, and girls are born with girl parts” to paraphrase. Well, turns out science isn’t so sure gender is a binary thing either. Claire Ainsworth talks about how sex is more of a spectrum from the lens of biology in this Nature (one of the most highly regarded science journals) article. National Geographic, another highly regarded science magazine, featured an article this year about how science is helping us to understand gender, and it ain’t just about boy and girl parts.
I posted those articles meaning to appease the dissenters. I got a mini-lecture on how liberal scientists were ruining everything for everyone. I clicked the laughy face in response.
Soon after I excused myself from the so-called conversation. It was apparent that dialogue was a dead end.
While the idea of labeling a newborn “gender X” does challenge my ideas about things, I’m able to partially put myself in non-cis shoes. I’ve taken trainings and read about the suicide rates in the LGBTQ community. Some of my students are LGBTQ. I once had a student who chose to go by a unisex name instead of his given name. The student told me that no other teacher had ever respected his choice to be called that name. How tragic to be denied your identity!
I choose to put my discomfort aside and defend the right of a human being to be who they want to be, with ahimsa (non-violence) accounted for.
If you want to be a Nazi, fuck you. It’s a personal choice to think that white folks are better than everyone else and to want everyone to bow down to you.
But if you are born different? I want there to be space and love for you. I want you to feel included. I want you to be able to explore all aspects of yourself so you can become your highest self. I want all of these things despite that in addition to thinking that it’s interesting that Washington state may be offering “gender X” for newborns, I also feel awkward about it.
I’ll put my awkwardness away so those little boys, girls, or queer children can grow to be they were meant to be. (If they don’t have a gender to start off with, they could never be trans!)
There are many more examples where empathy would go a long way: abortions, welfare, public education, the Fight for $15, homeless rights, restoring felon rights, immigrant rights, Black Lives Matter, the military-industrial complex, religious freedom, freedom of speech…
Many times we are quick to point the finger. We label and judge when things aren’t aligned with our beliefs. A lot of people in this country seem to think the following:
- Abortions are for sluts.
- Welfare is for lazy people.
- Teachers are lazy and public education doesn’t work.
- Why should a fast food worker make $15/hour when I’ve got a college education and make only that much?
- Felons messed up! They don’t deserve to vote.
- Immigrants are criminals and thieves.
- Black folks that get shot by cops deserve it.
- We need to be bombing all of those countries to preserve freedom.
- If you ain’t Christian, you ain’t American.
- If you talking badly about the President you aren’t American.
If you believe any of the above bullet points are true, what if instead you chose the side of empathy? What if you stopped and asked the hard questions? What if you stopped and truly educated yourself about the topic at hand? What if you kept an open heart about things that make you feel uncomfortable? What if you truly listened to people to have different life experiences that you? For things that don’t directly affect you, why don’t you butt out?
I like the four tenets of empathy shown in the above image:
- See their world
- Appreciate them as human beings
- Understand feelings
- Communicate understanding
With these tenets, there’s plenty of room for disagreement but also a lot of room for respect. We are all human beings.
Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it eloquently:
We are all connected: To each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.
If we begin to see each other through the lens of empathy, perhaps we will remember that connection.
So maybe The Beatles were right after all. Maybe empathy is love.