The awesome comic above is from http://xkcd.com/
The happenings both in the world and in my local community have forced me to ponder about conflict.
What causes differences in opinions and actions that are so great as to be perceived as irreconcilable?
Conflict makes me extremely uncomfortable, and one of my greatest weaknesses is that I avoid confrontation at almost all costs. My corollary strength, however, is that I rarely get into conflicts, because I’m so sensitive about them that I can often prevent them from starting (by trying to communicate, clarify, explain my point of view, and attempt to relate to theirs). All this to say that I spend a lot of my time thinking about what causes conflict and how it can be avoided…
From my perspective, although many factors contribute to conflicts arising, I think that the root of all conflict lies in an insufficiency of empathy – the inability to step in someone else’s shoes, and think and feel from another person’s perspective.
Those responsible for bullying gay teenagers to suicide were unable to and/or too afraid of imagining how they would feel if videos of them having sex were posted for everyone to see against their wishes, or if they were made to feel like their lives are worthless every single day.
In my own community, conflicts arose because viewpoints may have been taken out of context and without attempting to understand any potentially genuine intentions behind the messages. There seemed to me to be a paucity of empathy and some resistance to looking past what might be well-intended messages wrapped in poor delivery.
I believe that a scarcity in empathy often leads to misunderstanding and miscommunication, which forces each side to take extreme, defensive positions and actions that then preclude any hope for compromise and understanding. No hope that the pendulum will ever stop swinging.
As with one of the biggest criticisms of partisan politics, the original issue that everyone genuinely and passionately cares about loses its rightful position as the centre of attention. It becomes about taking sides, being right, and arguing against individuals rather than debating the topic at hand.
On a more personal note, I used to get really upset over the seemingly erratic behaviour of those around me (e.g., my mother would be late to pick me up after school almost all the time – if she loves me, why would she be late?). My interest in psychiatry really grew from my need to understand people’s behaviours so that I could stop freaking out over unexplained phenomena. Once I began to understand the motivations and intentions behind individual actions, I realized that what I perceived to be bad behaviours often came as byproducts of all the positive aspects of someone’s personality (in my mother’s case, her consistent tardiness is a byproduct of her spontaneity and her incredible presence and focus on you when she’s with you, both aspects of her amazing personality that I wouldn’t trade for the world). Thus, whenever I observe what might be considered a bad habit or behaviour in someone, I try to think about and notice what the correlating good has to be, and I almost always succeed. Unfortunately, the side effect of this approach is that I found that I could no longer get mad at anybody (at least most of the time…).
All of this cryptic talk really just to introduce the following video.
Joel Burns, the mayor of Fort Worth in Texas, bravely told his inspiring and challenging personal story during a city council meeting, in response to the recently publicized suicides of many gay teenagers.
Those who have read this blog before would know that these posts tend to turn into essays, but in this case, I am trying to keep it short (I can see now that I semi-failed at that…), because the 13-minute video below speaks louder and more clearly about the power and necessity of empathy than any words I could attempt to put together here.
I challenge you not to cry while watching this (because I certainly lost that challenge…).