A daily glance through the newspapers would actually be more than enough to effectively learn how to empathize. Now I am not trying to be critical of any political party in particular, because quite frankly empathizing has not been any one political party’s forte..every party is quite good at it. This, is in no way am I suggesting that empathizing is not good. But if you look around, I just feel that there is an overdose of empathy with no solutions to back it up. The Thekkady boat tragedy where almost 40 lost their lives is a fine example. Everybody expressed grief on hearing about the incident and the Kerala CM announced a compensation of 5 lakhs each for victim’s family. Kodiyeri Balakrishnan (Kerala tourism minister) came out with preventive measures for such boat accidents in the future stating that all boats at tourist destinations in Kerala would undergo a safety check to ensure the vessels are in good condition. It was also decided that henceforth all those under the age of 15 must wear a life jacket and those above 15 who do not wear one have to give an undertaking as to why they are not doing so. A rescue boat with all medical facilities at each boating destination and for every 25 passengers on a boat, one life guard would be employed. A friend of mine just returned after a vacation in kumarakom where he went for a boat ride. In spite of the writing in the boat ticket which says that wearing a life jacket is mandatory, there were no life jackets available. Lets take Thekkady, It’s been more than 4 weeks since the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary shut down following the boat capsize and tour operators, hotel owners and locals are now urging that the popular tourist spot be reopened soon as their livelihoods are at stake. There are over 40 resorts and more than 10,000 people make a living out of tourism activities and everything coming to a standstill is not a solution. Everybody empathized with this situation as well. Now, that’s a surprise.
The 2002 Godhra communal riots can pull up so many cases where most of the empathizers might have forgotten why they empathized in the first case. There was a talk show in one of the news channels regarding the survivors of the 1984 Sikh riots after the assassination of the then prime Minster, Indira Gandhi. The khalistan movement is still brewing in India and all it needs is one small spark to flame it up. It has been close to 25 years that successive governments have been successfully empathizing with the victims of the 84 riots, but there has been no hope of justice even today. It’s not good enough to say that “your heart goes out to the victims”. As the saying goes, Justice delayed is justice denied, Empathy cannot replace justice nor can it replace solutions. People who have lost their families do not need empathy, they need justice, and they need solutions. One of the participants in the talk show stated that we should reverse the norm that “Every party is innocent until proven guilty” and change that to “Every party is guilty until proven innocent”. Though, that’s stretching it a bit too far, but its far better than saying “We understand how difficult this must be and our hearts go out to them”
Empathy is the quality that lets you “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” and with empathy comes understanding and with understanding comes solutions. I don’t think empathy is a virtue, it’s just ability. It can be used for the good and for the bad as well and there’s no point in showing empathy without any intent. Some times it’s better to interrupt the speaker, than pretend to listen to him.