Lack of empathy, electronic media and us
Shabbir Ahmad
On January 20th, 2020, the shocking news of sexual assault and murder of a seven-year old girl spread across the country in no time. Although the local people expressed their grief and anger and demanded justice, but the reaction was limited to only a few areas like the local town of the victim i.e. Nowshehra and Peshawar along with some small gatherings in other areas. Only after five days of this unthinkable tragedy, the grief of the death of a fictional character named Danish engulfed the whole country. News channels broadcasted it as breaking news and people were expressing their sadness over all forms of social media.
Within few hours of the final episode of the serial, Danish’s death and the title of the TV serial became a top trend on twitter pushing back the trends which were demanding justice for the seven-year old child. It left the child’s family feeling frustrated, disappointed, and betrayed. What do these events show? Is mourning someone who does not technically exist more important than child sex abuse and murder or the latter became a routine matter so we do not need to talk about it for more than a couple of days? or maybe we have lost the last bit of empathy for our fellow humans.
Former US president Barack Obama stated in his address to a congregation: “The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit. We are in great need of people being able to stand in somebody else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes.” If we walk in the shoes of the parents of all those children which have been sexually abused and murdered, we might have felt what they are going through. The society might not have turned their backs on them.
We learn to be in the shoes of another person through real-life observation or storytelling. These feelings develop in an inclusive culture. Unfortunately, our culture has evolved in an opposite direction especially after the “electronic and social media revolution.” We know that many hear the “cry of the people” but the moral sound waves are muted as they pass through powerful cultural baffles. Culture in our country deadens feelings of social solidarity, pathologizes how we view ourselves and stunts our natural feelings of empathy and moral responsibility.
In recent years, we have seen an increase in polarisation of perspectives, in politics, social issues, human rights and more.
And while there are many possible explanations for these problems, one of the more credible is a lack of empathy and understanding. Empathy is an innate and a learned skill that is shaped by how we are wired when we are born, and our own environment and life experiences. Our environment has changed significantly in the recent past due to which we have become desensitized to the feelings of others. To experience empathy to some extent, we must get in touch with our emotions. A research paper published by the Loyola School of Law in 2014 says “studies have confirmed that narcissism and empathy are antithetical in nature, and as narcissism climbs, the capacity for empathy in humans has taken a steep decline.”
The mainstream media especially the electronic and social media is attempting to draw the public’s opinion towards issues that are ultimately fringe issues that impact a small percentage of us in order to ignore the large-scale major issues that affect all of us. Media has grown so much in the past two decades that all mainstream media is competing for the same story instead of trying to stand out in a field of their own. The media is our eyes and ears for everything going on around us and around the world. If the media keeps overlooking the real issues that affect us daily, then we are likely to forget about former issues and focus our energy on the tangential issues that the media portrays as the “real” ones. Social media, on the other hand is a double edge sword which can do amazing things in fighting a common cause or connecting us with people around the world, but according to experts, it can also cause a lapse in empathy.
The more we can understand others and what they are going through, the more likely we are to respect and support them. If we think just for a moment that what happened in Nowshehra can also happen to our children, we would definitely feel more empathetic towards the victims. In general, a higher level of empathy would also lead to less hate and violence, greater compassion toward others, and more humane actions being taken by individuals and governments. In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), author Harper Lee writes, “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it”.