Y’know what I just don’t understand? Avocados.
I don’t get the fascination. I think they have a weird texture, and I think they taste like soil. Moreover, they go off too damn quickly, and they look like large, mummified pears. Yet, my house is full of them, because my housemates adore the things. They put them on bread, they put them in salads; for all I know, they could be using them as Christmas decorations. Whatever it is they’re doing with them, they’re happy, and they’re not putting in or out on anyone. Really, the presence of this weird fruit is just something I notice every now and then, and then I go back to living my avocado-free life without facing any consequences as a direct result of doing so.
In this situation, the different opinions we hold are very understandable. We have particular tastes that we developed over time and now it’s difficult – not impossible, but certainly difficult – to change. I disagree with a lot of people on a lot of different topics, not all of them fruit-related. It’s impossible for everyone to see eye-to-eye all the time, never mind most of the time. No matter how impartial we try to be, our individual life experiences are going to affect the way we see the world, which isn’t a positive or a negative thing in and of itself – it just is what it is.
Our own experience becomes a negative thing when we take it for granted. We’re all, so to speak, the main character of our own story, and even those of us with the best intentions are inclined to see those with a different narrative as antagonists. That isn’t at all to say that we shouldn’t have convictions: rather, it’s a reminder that the world isn’t a clear-cut fight between good and evil. Rather, it’s meant to emphasise that people don’t behave the way they do for no reason. People have reasons. Are these reasons necessarily good? Not always – but they’re nonetheless explanatory.
The suffering we inflict on other people is usually due to a lack of empathy, which can be intentional or unintentional. When we come face-to-face with an antagonist, our first reaction, after all, isn’t to understand them, it’s to defeat them; it’s to defend ourselves and rescue our own narrative. Now, sometimes that narrative is worth rescuing, and sometimes it’s not, but the only way you can know for sure is by considering the views of its main detractors, and seeing whether they have merit. You can’t consider other people’s views if you can’t empathise with them.
Now, let me make this clear: empathy is not the same thing as agreement. You can empathise with someone’s reasoning and still denounce the conclusion they come to, especially if that conclusion has the potential to harm others, but if we don’t at least try to understand where we’re all coming from, what you’ll end up with is a vicious circle of power struggles between warring groups of ideologues who consistently ignore the needs of the people they don’t agree with. Just look at all the trouble the world has gotten itself into recently!
This empathy deficit needs to be resolved if we’re all going to start getting along with each other; you can’t fix a broken pipe by putting a bandage on the tap. We need to stop looking at the way things are, and start asking why they are that way. We can’t keep asking why the divide is widening, and then block our ears when someone gives us an answer. Ask questions. Be open. Be kind.