Empathy, Compassion & the Other

Empathy, sympathy. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and truly imagining what living their life would be like. As the Australian election starts ramping up (and is truly garnering some very strange moments in our history – check out #auspol), the promises are being slathered on us like coconut oil on dry skin.

Further, we are living in a world that tells us to ‘man up‘ and ‘crying is weak‘ and other damaging sayings that when repeated throughout a person’s life, can affect every part of their psyche. So this lack of compassion damages the people not receiving it and the people not giving it.

Somehow, having emotions and showing concern for people throughout all walks of life, not only in your own demographic, is shown so infrequently in mainstream media that heavy, targeted stereotyping has become something we skim over and don’t really notice anymore. This is a very dangerous way to think.

“World” History is European History

Why do I never hear about news from African countries on the news? Unless it’s a free trade agreement or the so-called seemingly neverending “war on terror” we do not hear about it (unless, of course, an Australian is involved in something). Yet Trump has a meeting with Kanye West and THAT’S what makes Australian news coverage? This kind of separation infiltrates into so many areas. Why can’t I find the Nigerian or Sudanese charts on Spotify? Why are their tastes seemingly less important than say, the USA or the UK?

It’s concerning that the biggest continent on earth, full of different countries with so much history, language, different cultures and backgrounds and so much depth is reduced to practically nothing in our minds. This may also be because Western Europe and America are over-focused on in world history subjects.

Why did I know about the American Civil Rights movement but I didn’t know about the complete genocide of First Nations people in Tasmania, in my own country? Why did I know about Elizabeth I but I didn’t know about the Khmer Rouge? Why did I know about the French revolution and knew that JFK was assassinated, but I didn’t know anything about the conflicts between India and Pakistan? Or Israel and Palestine?

Selective history is moulding our views. We want to talk about hard topics, but only if it’s about the World Wars or the 10,000th documentary about Hitler on the History Channel. There is so much history out there that is important for us to learn to understand our present, but you might not find it in school or at Uni, so it’s imperative to do your own research.

Compartmentalisation

The idea that we can revoke citizenship is unbelievable. How has this even been put on the table? They’re ours now, we take care of them. This is true no matter the circumstance, e.g. they commit a crime or apply incorrectly. Maybe we need to look into how this has happened and how society had a hand in this. Some people are just evil, it’s true. However, some people have been disadvantaged in every single part of their lives and they’ve gone down the wrong path, they’ve done drugs, they’ve broken laws. Given a chance, a helping hand, a step-up, real changes in their lives, they could turn into the next incredible doctor, lawyer, human rights activist, artist, or they could simply live healthy, fulfilling lives without discrimination, which is what we should be aiming to for all people in Australia.

This is an uncomfortable idea. However, if we have accepted people into this country, we should be taking the blame ourselves. We should not be ‘palming them off’ so someone else can take care of them. I spoke to an Indian family in Brisbane who had spent over $300,000 becoming citizens of this country. It’s not like people are singing and skipping through the door to stay here. Immigrants are working exceptionally hard. Stop putting them all in the same basket, they’re as diverse as we as the entire population are.

Crafting People’s Views 

The concept of ‘the Other‘ is strong. If someone doesn’t look like us, live like us, dress like us or make the same choices, we naturally find it more difficult to connect with them emotionally. However, doesn’t that make it even more important and worthy to undertake as an exercise? This world has been split. We all seem to be against each other and it’s getting us nowhere. The violence, the sadness, the unnecessary death that is happening every single day in countries we do not hear about. Then, when we hear an African name, we think of a malnourished child on a World Vision ad. That’s ALL WE’VE GOT from mainstream media. How sad is that?

This route we are taking is clearly not working for anyone. We need to bring emotions and true stories back to the table instead of clearly rejecting the seemingly ‘non-logical’ part of the argument.

Media Ownership 

The country has very few people running almost all of the mainstream media outlets. This business model is in its twilight years (and so are most of the people running them…) but it is sickening how much bias these newspapers, “news” programs and magazines spit out. Choosing an independent media can help, but even they can get infiltrated (e.g. the ABC’s gradual swing to the right to prevent further cuts to their already ribboned budget, which is not working as I see many people still referring to them as ‘left-wing’ – people who likely do not watch it, mind). I recommend The Guardian and SBS, and doing your own unbiased research on topics that are important to you, to get the full picture.

‘Community Responsibility’ 

A few people from the same or similar background commit crimes, and the entire community is supposed to take responsibility for it. What is this? Is every Sudanese person the same? (and we say ‘African’ – not even mentioning the actual country to further make sure their identities are completely erased). So…how do we as the white community take responsibility for all the awful crimes done by us? I for one, do deeply apologise (not sarcasm).

This is absolutely heartbreaking, and further fuels the fact that Sudanese people aren’t just ‘Australian’ but are ‘Othered’ from us. “It’s UnAustralian! It’s UnAustralian!” – you know when this weak sentence gets trotted out there’s been absolutely zero thought process gone into the solution. The solution should be community-based, not the punishment. Australia also needs to have a good, hard look at itself and ask itself some tough questions – why do I never see First Nations voices on TV unless it’s NITV? Why is mainstream Australian television still overly white and male and dominated by one-track thought? Why are journalists not allowed to investigate anymore but are expected to ‘tow the line’ of their respected outlet’s bias?

We have to try and fix this  

Really, truly try. Deep empathy and sympathy is hard work. It does not come naturally to most of us. But really, put yourself in someone else’s shoes and put yourself in hard. Try to imagine. As most of us only listen to answer, learning how to listen more deeply to people is a good start.

Read and watch First Nations and racially diverse voices in Australia. Learn more about disabilities. Talk to your friends with very different experiences. Widen your network. See how you can help, it can feel so overwhelming but every little bit helps. This could mean monthly donations to a charity, volunteering at a local op shop that donates to people in need, joining a Facebook group or a church that has meetups to help teach recent newcomers English, the possibilities are endless.

How would the following feel? 

  • A First Nations man living in the Territory, who has watched his mates die all around him from reasons that would spark a royal enquiry if it was in one of the big cities
  • A young woman being abused horrifically by her partner but knows if she leaves, she and her children will die. She has tried to leave before and her partner only got 6 weeks in prison.
  • A pregnant 10-year old who has been raped in South America unable to get an abortion, so she is put away in a home with other children in her situation and they all pray for her to live through the birth. She doesn’t.
  • A Saudi Arabian woman who would do anything to escape the regime but can’t. She saw how the last girl who tried to seek asylum was treated and she can’t take the chance.
  • A Sudanese teenager who was so excited to come to Australia and he’s working his hardest at school, but people are scared of him due to the ‘African gangs’ rhetoric, and he finds he has to work two, three, four times as hard as his classmate to get a job or finish high school.
  • Being a child in an Indian slum and having to give up school and go to work to make clothes to make money for your family, you’ve heard that one item of the piece of clothing sell for more than what your family make in an entire year.
  • A teenager from a desperately poor family in a regional area who wants so much to make a difference but will have to quit school in year 10 to get a job, as the opportunity of further education is closed to him
  • A woman in her 50s, forced to live on the streets due to the low level of attainable unskilled work, and wage theft that means businesses prey on young people. She didn’t need to be qualified to do the same job in the 80s.
  • A gay man in Brunei. He is depressed, thinks how he feels is unnatural and prays every day for it to go away. Being gay has now become punishable by death. He will marry, have children, he will never be able to truly be himself and will hide his feelings his entire life.
  • A refugee, stateless, home country destroyed by wars, risks the death of his entire family to travel by boat to Australia, a country he’s heard is nice. What he finds when he gets there is yet another war, the war on the Other, the war on the poor, the war on the non-white, the war on the non-privileged. He finds himself labelled a terrorist, when they were the ones he was escaping from. He cannot get medical care, he watches his friends and family die in a prison for trying to escape a war zone. He watches his children starve and his wife cry, he feels like it is all his fault.

Why don’t we care?

There are so many other examples of how we turn people into ‘the Other’. Differently abled, neurodiverse, too young, too old, different races, gender, religion, and inherently restricted and biased media coverage machine that trundles on and on.

When I went to New Zealand I saw a Maori girl on one of the billboards advertising one of their Unis, I was so happy, and yet so unbelievably sad that I don’t think we’d see First Nations people as advertising for our Unis. Inherently because of our collective attitude problem towards the custodians of our country.

Our system is inherently broken on so many levels that make us think of people as ‘Others’. Our welfare system makes you pay back any extra you receive and has about 3 people working in each Centrelink branch (apparently the terrible service is used as a ‘deterrent’ – how awful), our medical system is increasingly privatised and bulk billing doctors are getting harder to find, our Universities are underfunded and starving for research, our legal systems let out monsters and lock up minimal criminals.

The Herald Sun and Channel 7, among a litany of others, don’t want you to think for yourselves. They want you to slurp up their lies and take their overblown stories as gospel (if I hear the saying ‘a tale of two migrants’ regarding what happened to Sisto Malaspina one more time I am going to scream). Turning people’s entire lives, entire stories, into one, often rhyming headline is gross. We never address the problem. We never take responsibility as a group, why should we expect other communities to take all the blame?

The news is also overwhelmingly negative. So negative it crushes down on us and makes our brains hurt. This is another way that the media imposes separation between us all. When the governments and the institutions and the money-makers can separate the people, they can control us that much easier. They can make decisions and do things behind closed doors that are going unnoticed as we are all too busy deciding if saving the trees should be labelled left or right wing policy (it should be labelled neither, by the way).

If You Can See It, You Can Be It

The first time I watched an AFLW game I had tears streaming down my face. How revolutionary to watch women’s sports on a free-to-air channel with stats and scores and commentary and everything! It was so thrilling. I thought if I had been a child, how much more excited I would have felt. Full of wonder and possibility.

Can you imagine how incredible it would have felt, as an Australian kid of Sudanese background to watch Majak Daw, Mabior Chol or Aliir Aliir on the big screen? Many, many people do not understand this as they have always seen themselves on TV and in movies so could never imagine anything differently. But it matters. Representation and diversity in media matters.

You can hear meaningless platitudes like “if you can dream it you can be it!” or the like, but the connection in your mind and heart struggles if you have truly never seen it. How can I be it when it seems like no one else has ever done it?

Discovering empathy, sympathy and compassion can be exhausting progress as bad news will then hit exceptionally hard. “What if I was them?” becomes a regular question you ask yourself. It is a worthy journey, however, as you find yourself opening your eyes and realising there’s so much more out there to learn, about others, about ourselves. We must come together and rise above mainstream media to get to critical thinking. The best way to help others get there is to lead by example.

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