Monday, August 10, 2009

Can I Really Feel Your Pain?

Empathy - What's That All About?

I have been giving some thought to empathy and how we come by it, and what it means in our society. First, I was wondering if I have any of it, and if so when and where I got it. After some thought, I realised that I do have some, then I started asking why and for what purpose, and of course what does it have to do with Canada's HRC industry.

Looking at my own personal history with empathy, I concluded that I wasn't born with it. After all, when I was born I was cold, wet, hungry, and my butt hurt from that first slap on it. Empathy was not big on my list of things to do or be right then. For the next 2 years and 9 months, I don't think it was a big thing for me either. I had 2 adults all to myself, and even though the female one was getting fat towards the end of that time period, it was all about me, and I don't imagine empathy was on my mind.

Then, my little sister was born. My amount of attention dropped off, but I learned that I got attention if I was good to her, and also if I was bad to her. The attention when I was bad to her hurt. The attention when I was good to her was much nicer, so I leaned towards good to her. No empathy in that, more about self preservation.

Then I started school. I didn't learn about empathy there either. Can't say that there was a lot of opportunity to learn about empathy in the business world as I studied to become a chartered accountant, and then went into public practice and industry over the years.

No, for me it started to happen when my wife became ill and I was in a car accident several years ago, and not immediately. Being disabled gives you two choices, deal with it or let it deal with you. It took years to get past it dealing with us, to where we could deal with it and then with each other properly, but we are there much of the time, and it includes a lot of empathy for me now in my life.

For me, it took personal losses, deeply felt to be able to empathize with others and their losses at a level beneath the most surface of emotions and words.

For others, like Craig Kielburger (along with his brother Marc) who started a Child Rights advocacy group when he was 12 years old and now runs the successful worldwide organisation Me to We, empathy came at a very early age and seemingly out of the blue. A friend of mine, who is their Chief Operations Director at Me to We, Renee Hodgkinson had her own path to a life of empathy towards others. but, they achieved their empathy by reaching out to others, and meeting them in their own surroundings and could not help but be touched by living with them and hearing their stories.

Meanwhile, most people never achieve any real empathy, because they/we are too busy about our days doing the chores of life, including unfortunately in our society of today, parenting as a duty.

Empathy is defined as "Identification with and understanding of another's situation, feelings, and motives" in the American Heritage Dictionary. I don't know, but it seems like empathy would be a good thing to bring to a Human Rights organisation, and if so, then to the investigation of and dealing with human rights complaints.

Take for example the De Angelis/Corcoran case before the Ontario HRC. Not that one again. My latest post on it was here. Now, Corcoran filed a Form 1, and the parishioners and Bishop have filed their response by the deadlines, and there will be a mediation hearing in 4-6 months or so. Doesn't sound too empathetic to me, or likely to bring any healing to the situation either.

What would happen if the Ontario HRC investigator interviewed all the parties separately empathetically (with empathy for all parties, not just the complainant) trying to understand their situation, feelings and motives? I imagine he/she would get an earful, and if he/she was a good listener would have a really good opportunity to do some good in this situation. It would require an open mind, and an open heart. I wonder if they have any of those types among the troops over there. It would be nice. To dream the impossible dream.

If not, then what use is the Ontario HRC or any of the other HRCs really? If not, then they are just glorified sausage making making machines. Put a complaint in at the front end, chew up the Respondent for a lengthy period of time, declare a victory for Human Rights, and move on the next complaint and unlucky schmoe.

I like my concept better, enough to suggest that they either change what they are doing or stop doing it altogether, because it is harmful to our society, not helpful.

The people that I like most on this planet are not those with a cause, but those with empathy for those who are disadvantaged. Empathetic people are more about "We" and less about "Me".

I don't see a whole lot of that in the Human Rights industry. The cause of the Rightists has gotten so distorted as to have lost all focus on its original mission, but that's for another time. Even they deserve some empathy, because they have lost their way, and with the power that they have been given, wouldn't we have done the same under similar circumstances?

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