The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
Empathy is feeling and understanding another person’s emotions. It is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and being able to emphasize with their situation.
Southern California is teeming with homeless men, women and children. It’s hard not to miss them standing on street corners asking for change. Then again, sometimes it’s easy to miss them. They are the invisible, or at least the ones we wish were invisible. Why is it so hard to look them in the eye when your car is stopped at a red light and they are holding their signs up saying “God bless”, “Anything helps”? It’s a societal guilt. We don’t want to look too closely because we might feel something we strive not to feel. A sort of sadness. THEIR sadness, THEIR desperation.
Our current mindset in this modern age is that being happy is the end-all be-all of goals. We read articles on the Top 10 Ways to “Be Happy”, numb ourselves with mindless television, and compulsively buy when we feel upset or bored. So when we see something that makes us uncomfortable, we turn away because it will interfere with the illusion of a continual happiness. This is especially true in California because of the high number of homeless.
But I’m here to inform you, empathy is not dead in Southern California. It is hidden and not always expressed publically, but it’s still here. While walking around in Long Beach, I stumbled upon a delivery boy talking with a homeless man in an alley way. He introduced himself as Robert and appeared to be making small talk. I snapped a picture and passed by. That’s all I saw. Just a glimmer of humanity in an alley. Just someone talking on the same level to another person. A simple act. There are so many organizations and 5k runs to end hunger and homelessness, but we don’t have to interact with “them”. We don’t have to look them in the eye and ask “how are you doing today?” It’s easier to dehumanize than to see them as our brother, sister, daughter, son.
Our society has seemingly put value in narcissism since we are able to post everything and only what we want others to perceive of us on the internet. If we show others that we are happy then maybe we will actually BE happy. Empathy for others does more for our personal happiness than we could ever dream. Being able to connect with another human being’s pain and suffering shifts our perspective away from our own problems and broadens our view of the world. People shy away from suffering because they are afraid that they will take on that other person’s pain. In actuality, by lifting their burden we lift our own.
Everyone has scars. If we can find a way to embrace those emotional scars and share that burden with others, we realize that we are not alone. We are never alone.
One of the most profound things I’ve realized since moving to California is that becoming homeless can happen to anyone out here. Even myself. The next profound thing I realized is that I have a wonderful support system to fall back on and am extremely lucky to live the life I live and know the people I know. Many homeless are mental ill with no support system or endured an extreme situation that landed them in their current position. Even the ones that got there with drugs or crime might have endured traumas in their life that turned into bad choices. Feel gratitude for your life and try not to judge so harshly another person’s experiences.
Find courage to show your empathy and know that this kindness converts directly to the happiness you seek. The more love you show the world the more you feel it for and in yourself.