One thing I have realised from observing human interactions is our gross lack of empathy.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines empathy as:
The feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions. The ability to share someone else’s feelings.
We are unwillingly to put ourselves in other people’s shoes and to see life the way they do. I believe this unwillingness to empathise is responsible for a lot of the meanness in the world, including most forms of discrimination. If we could imagine ourselves as the people we are so mean to, would we be so forthcoming with our insults? If we realised that we could easily be/have been in the position that some people are in, would we be comfortable enough to humiliate them and rip them to shreds?
There is no end to the list of situations in which we display our lack of empathy, but I want to focus on depression and suicide in this post.
Whenever a person commits suicide, people start spewing out their mean comments and damning the person to hell. They yell insensitive comments about how selfish and cowardly suicide is. The nicer ones say “I am not judging, but I don’t approve of suicide. I don’t understand why someone would kill themselves.”
And therein lies the problem ladies and gentlemen-a lack of understanding.
People do not understand why people would want to kill themselves. They do not understand the mental state of a depressed person. They also do not make any effort to understand. All they know it that it is wrong and people who kill themselves are on the way to hell.
As with abortion, people pass judgments because they see depression and suicide as something that happens to other people. They never imagine that they could be in that position one day.
I am not clinically depressed but I try to imagine how a depressed person feels. It could be my love of psychology and my interest in the workings of the mind and the behaviours of humans. I will attempt to explain my understanding of depression.
Usually when we are sick or in any form of discomfort, we know, or at least hope, that it is temporary. The thought that this pain will soon pass is what keeps us going. Imagine if you knew(or thought) that the pain you were in was never going to go away. You wake up everyday feeling desolate and unhappy. You spend every waking minute feeling like shit. Everything irritates you and drives you deeper into this darkness.
Even worse is that you have no idea why you feel this way. You do not know what caused it and how to make it stop. Life becomes dreary. You are sick, not only in your body but in your mind. You can deal with physical pain but the mental anguish is unbearable. There is no respite in sight. This illness will go on forever, it seems. It eats up at you slowly, chipping away at your soul until you cannot take it anymore. Like life isn’t hard enough, you have to put on a facade to be able to function in public. You are constantly exhausted from the enormous amount of strength and energy you expend trying to maintain this facade. Imagine having a permanent sinking feeling in your stomach. You find yourself crying but cannot explain why. You just want to make it stop. But how?
Nobody really understands. They tell you to snap out of it, or tell you to pray harder. They dismiss it as childishness/female issues/laziness/whatever else. Soon you stop sharing your feelings with them because they simply do not get it.They do not understand that you cannot shake it off, that if you could you would have. It is like telling someone who has a horrible migraine to just get over it, to just make the migraine go away.
Imagine having a horrendous toothache that is not going away. You have tried everything and to you it seems that this pain is going to last forever. Maybe a pain relief will be available in the future, but your mind is presently clouded by all the unbearable pain. You cannot see past your suffering and you cannot bear to suffer anymore.
I have moments when I am unhappy, and I am sure everyone does as well. I cannot imagine being in such perpetual agony.
A lot of depressed people may think that they are doing their families a favour by killing themselves. They might feel like a burden on their loved ones and in their depressed state think their loved ones would be better off without them.
A person’s suicide always brings up the inevitable is suicide cowardly or brave? debate. I do not think suicide is brave. I do not think it is cowardly either. Does it have to be one of the two? Must we categorise a person’s sadness and desperation?
I will make a few concessions: I think suicide can be cowardly in the case of someone of sound mind who commits suicide to shirk from responsibilities. There is always a story about a petty trader who has just delivered sextuplets to add to her three children. Now she has nine children. Before the placenta is out, the husband has absconded and is found trying to jump down a bridge, leaving his wife to deal with nine children alone. I can also understand being peeved that a person has jumped in front of a train, thereby causing distress to other people.
Depression and suicide are more complicated than we think. It is so cruel to just dismiss it, because you have never been in that position.The sad thing is that depression can happen to anyone. So even people who are cruel to depressive/suicidal people can and do become depressed. They might not report it or seek treatment because depression is what happens to other people, only those people commit suicide.
This abhorrent lack of empathy goes beyond depression and suicide. It permeates every fibre of our being. Only a few people care to empathise with others. All most people care about is that X is wrong and people who do it are wrong and that’s it. There are people who just sit around, ready to pounce on and rip to shreds anyone who has contravened the rules of convention.
There are so many decisions a person might take that we will not understand, because we have never been in their position. And that is where empathy comes in. A lack of understanding is not a valid excuse. As intelligent people, we have to educate ourselves. If you do not understand, then please make an effort to learn. Do not simply wallow comfortably in your ignorance.
It is human nature to judge, trust me I get it. However I feel that we are just too darn mean. We should not feel so comfortable ripping others to shreds. There is nothing wrong with putting in a little effort into understand a person’s feelings. I am not perfect and I sometimes have to make the conscious decision to delay my judgment and first of all try to understand. 8 out of ten times, I end up sympathising with the person rather than judging.
As you go about your normal day, keep in mind that these things you turn your nose up at could happen to you. Try to adopt the attitude of empathy. Be nice to people.
To quote Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird:
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view..until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
Wise words to live by.
Have a sunny, judgment free day. Bisous.
PS: If you have anything to add or remove from my explanation of depression, or from the discussion in general, feel free to chime in.