2017-08-09 / Community View

VIEW POINT

You cannot ignore the plight of your neighbors

No matter how you choose to live your life, the simple truth is that you, as an assumedly human person, are a social creature. No man is an island, and in our increasingly interconnected times, that sentiment has never been more apt. Other people are always around you whether you live in an apartment building in the center of Brooklyn or inside a giant whale. We prepare for the worst, learning how to feed ourselves, clothe ourselves, educate ourselves, and protect ourselves, but no matter what happens, we’ll always need other people.

Empathy is regarded in society as a trivial thing. A fringe skill that tends to make people weak rather than strong. Modern business structures demand cutthroat self-interest in order to advance in the work place, as we saw with the now-infamous Google memo, that explains in deeply flawed terms that the reason women are a minority in a tech-business workplace is that they’re simply biologically incapable of handling the high intensity pressures of climbing the corporate ladder. Feeling empathy towards equals, as women do, will only hold a person back, while men who think only of themselves climb right over everyone else. Forgoing empathy might benefit a person in the short term, but in the long term it only serves to distance us from each other.

A community has the innate advantage of being made up of different people, with different lives, plans, skills, goals and personalities. That’s what can make a community great, and it’s also what can tear it apart. Every time we’re in proximity to another person, that is an opportunity to make a connection. And that connection could be a strengthening bond between two people that live within the same community, instead of a missed chance. Ask me 10 years ago if I thought I’d be advocating being nice and friendly to strangers and I’d call you an idiot, but here we are.

You cannot ignore the plight of your neighbors if you care about their wellbeing, if you at least attempt to feel what they feel. Empathy leads to helping others, which only helps yourself. Next time you’re at the store, say hello to a stranger. It’s taken me two solid years of meeting new people nearly every day for this job to get to the point where I can actually say hello to a rando. But do it enough and it won’t be awkward. It will be the first beam placed for bridge off the island of self-interest. Because no matter how hard you try, no man (or woman) is an island.

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