Walking in someone else’s shoes

My colleague tweeted about Sidin Vadukut’s article on empathy the other day, a concept that resonated with me. His concept of us having hermetic lifestyles got me thinking about another article I had read here on Medium. Immediately after the US election results were announced, people in India were wondering how they managed to miss or undermine the forecast that Trump would win the elections. In both these articles, the common thread (amazing considering that both the authors were writing from two different continents) was that we move in the same circles, are friends with people of same income, interests and education level and hence, end up sharing opinions, on every burning issue of the day, which are not vastly different from each other. Additionally, we mistake them to be the common viewpoint. We think that by speaking to a friend, a relative, a neighbor, that we have taken into consideration the views of the vast majority and hence, have a well-rounded opinion.

But in reality, we have no clue how the other half lives. We have no idea that short dresses and immodest necklines are still frowned upon. We try to rage via movies about how society views single girls staying alone in flats in Mumbai. Never thinking for a second about the girls in some villages who never even reach the stage where they can determine what they want to study or who they want to marry. Our problems are also all the typical first world problems — Which university will we send our child to? Should we switch to the Iphone7? Is quinoa the new fad or chia seeds?

Considering this state of things, how can there be empathy? Like Sidin pointed out, our world view of others is always via the lens of our daily help. Little do we know that they do not represent the vast majority and in fact, that they too are elite among the crowd we think we are viewing via their opinions. They have exposure to good food, cars, clothes and hence, can never represent the humanity which has to figure out where the daily bread will come from.

So how does one break these walls of isolation and entitlement? A small start would be to take some timeout and help people overcome the limitations their surroundings have imposed on them and show them the way. It could be reading out stories aloud to the children who never knew the concept of bedtime stories existed. Sort out books meant for BMC libraries. Basically getting out of your comfort zone and going to places where your presence makes a difference and realize that they are in the position to teach you a lot about what you still don’t know exists on the other side of the walls you have built around you and your sheltered cocooned life!

Start volunteering and change your life, remove a brick from your wall, one at a time, and one day you will see much more than just a narrow homogeneous view of the world around you.

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Sidin’s article can be found here http://www.livemint.com/Sundayapp/5m1RNeDatdapXVZjepmpQJ/Letter-from-assorted-WhatsApp-groups.html

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