Empathy Throughout Catastrophe

As an avid SHAYTARDS fan, I must say that when I heard about what had happened, I was in shock. For those of you who aren’t aware, SHAYTARDS is a YouTube Channel that has over 4.9 million subscribers, and has been publishing content for about 8 years. The channel follows a family as they vlog, or video log, their lives. Shay Butler, the father of the family, had previously battled alcoholism for quite a few years, but managed to overcome this addiction. However, he recently announced that he’d relapsed about three months ago. This announcement immediately followed a post made by Aria Nina “@AriaNina_” on Twitter which unabashedly exposed that Shay had been cheating on his wife with her. There have been numerous responses to this news from fans and bystanders; some say that is intoxication is no excuse for his behaviour, some say that this incident is proof that religion doesn’t make you a good person, some say that their respect for him has absolutely diminished, while others are unconditionally continuing to support him and his family.

Personally, I’ve never been under the influence of alcohol (as I am very, very underage). I understand, though, that alcohol can be potent in its destruction of one’s body, mind, and the people that surround one. Although it is absolutely not an excuse for cheating on your wife of fourteen years, it is imperative to take into consideration the fact that alcoholism is, according to the American National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, a disease. From my understanding, alcoholism eats away at who you are, clouds one’s rationale, and although it does not completely justify Shay’s actions, it could potentially be a contributing factor. Of course, we cannot blame our actions on anything or anyone but ourselves. Nevertheless, it’s important to acknowledge that there are many factors that are important to consider when attempting to draw conclusions, from a situation that has very little background information.

In the same way that we cannot blame our actions on anything but ourselves, we also cannot save ourselves from our actions. Many other Christian family vloggers have had setbacks in their relationships. As followers of Christ, these vloggers have previously said that they’ve sought God’s forgiveness and that they have been working together as a family unit because of the love that they know their Lord has for them. Religion hasn’t been mentioned in this particular incident, by Shay or anyone close to him, but even if it had been, it cannot be assumed that religion makes one a better or worse person. Religion can be oppressive; it can be uplifting as well. Sure, it can provide one with guidelines that may help one decide how to live. However, religion isn’t some sort of advertisement that claims to have a ton of benefits. Connecting this back to Shay’s situation, it doesn’t seem right to bring religion into this. It is only one lens that has been used to view a multifaceted event, but it really can’t show the full story. Though it may play into a situation like this, in my opinion, it has never completely defined who Shay is, and it truly isn’t equitable to allow this aspect of his life to define the understanding of the situation at hand.

It would be so easy to look at this man and think something along the lines of, “Wow, the person I looked up to turned out to be a disgusting human being. I hate him. He can go to hell.” On the other hand, the difficult, but right thing to do, is to have empathy. It may sound cliché and idealistic, but putting yourself in the shoes of those directly affected by this situation could be an incredibly powerful act. Shay’s wife and kids are definitely hurt, devastated, and extremely disappointed. In addition, though, it’s critical to acknowledge Shay’s perspective as well. He’s just let down nearly 5 million people, including those who are very close to him. He made a mistake; a massive, incredibly disgusting one. However, it was a mistake. His entire life, career, and reputation has essentially been tarnished by this colossal mess, and he has expressed that he feels a tremendous amount of remorse. I understand that many wouldn’t agree with empathizing with a man capable of such behaviour, but…

To cheat on your partner is unfathomable for many, myself included. Yet if we’d just really, truly try to empathize with Shay, and others who’ve made mistakes, no matter how huge, we’d have a lot less hate, disappointment, and anger. I’m not saying that any of this is okay, or that we should simply forgive and forget. However, we all know that it’s just so much more important to love, feel empathy, and give faith and prayer to those who are victims of life’s hardships, rather than tearing them apart. It may be easier to tear someone apart; to yell and throw things and cuss people out. However, to really practice what it means to be human and restore faith in humanity, it is essential to continue empathizing, understanding, and connecting with others. Mistakes may be made, lives may be destroyed, people may be broken, judgement may be passed; these are all factors that contribute to humanity. It’s also humanity, though, that allows empathy to triumph, connection to overcome, and understanding to lead to a better world. Let’s overcome the negativity that inevitably surrounds us, in favour of a more positive and inclusive outlook which we have the power to obtain.