Massive, actually. It’s a force to be reckoned with, and it’s caused incredible change and growth in society. The rights of many minorities, including women, people of colour, and LGBTQ people, are rooted in empathy for others, and may never have taken place without it. We have empathy when we give to the homeless, when we donate to charities, when we buy a rafiki from the Me to We enterprise, and when we make a website called hopelyfe.com, which promotes positivity, tolerance and empathy in and of itself. Donations and supporting others in these ways are absolutely fantastic. They’re great ways to make an impact, especially to reach and aid people and places we don’t encounter in everyday life.
But alas, we forget. We forget that empathy can also be tiny, and we forget that in many ways, the little empathies can be more potent than the more noticeable ones.
Calling them little empathies doesn’t undermine their power. It’s simply the truth; little empathies are just the little things. The way we speak to others, our awareness of others’ emotions, and how we carry ourselves overall are all examples of everyday ways we can show empathy to others. To recognize these, however, requires patience and attention that doesn’t always come easily to everyone.
The way in which we speak to someone, though it may seem unimportant, can have a huge impact on people and their emotional state. I know that personally, as a very sensitive person, a slight tone of annoyance in someone’s voice while speaking to me can hurt. A lot. Often, others don’t notice, but if an underlying tone of passive aggression is in somebody’s voice, or even in their body language, I pick up on it immediately and feel as if I’ve been stung. I’ve noticed this with teachers, particularly; they won’t be directly angry at me, or someone else, but often carry their negative emotions in their voices. Many of my classmates don’t notice at all, and I often think I’m imagining it, but there are some instances in which a harsh tone is undeniably there. This is where a little empathy comes in. When we are aware of the impact that even our voices can make on someone, and have empathy for those who are bewildered by our tones, it helps us realize that expressing our thoughts more clearly would be more beneficial for us, and everyone else. Instead of leaving them to figure out their faults, we can assist them in trying to solve them. In addition, often an apology or explanation for why we are speaking or acting in this way, can help them to practice empathy towards us as well. This not only allows everyone to have a chance to communicate their emotions, but also prevents people from feeling attacked and hurt unnecessarily, while encouraging the understanding of one another.
The awareness of other people’s emotions can be a tricky concept to wrap our heads around. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our daily routines that we don’t stop to think about the people on the sidelines. Whether it’s our friends, family, acquaintances, or even that girl who sits behind us in math class, we all live a new chapter every day. It hurts when we go unnoticed; it hurts when people forget about us. We’ve all felt that way before; like the ocean of people around us moves as we’re caught up in its current, but we aren’t truly swimming with it. We could connect tremendously throughout our daily lives if we would simply ask our friends how they were doing, and truly listen to their responses; if we’d allow our teachers to do their job without intersecting with comments every two minutes; if we’d sincerely thank our parents for raising us and shaping us into the people we are. We all live a new chapter every day; if we’d only read them word for word, we’d all be more mindful of the beautiful stories surrounding us.
My final token of little empathy for you today, is to smile. Who you present yourself as to others is a crucial component of what you put into the world, and your understanding of others. Even if your toast was burnt, you missed the bus this morning, you got to school or work late, you failed your math test, and you tripped and fell twice in a row, please, just smile at someone passing by. No matter how broken you may feel, and how discouraged and in pain you are, a smile will never lose its value, and will often encourage others; a ticket to your own happiness as well. Smiling at people, and putting effort into making people feel comfortable around you gives off a certain vibe; something that everyone craves. I’m not suggesting that you lie; be angry, be sad, feel the feelings you need to feel. However, at the end of the day, it’s about what you’ve put into the world, and even if your only success for the entire day was that you smiled at someone, congratulations. You’ve let someone know, even if it was just for a split second, that the world isn’t against them; a reminder that you may have needed yourself. You’ve let someone know that they aren’t alone. And that, my friend, is an impressive feat.
As a people, we strive for love, understanding, and happiness. We all want to be happy, and many of us want the world to be happy too. Despite our conflicts, we want to high five, and shake hands, and hug. We not only want each other; we need each other, even if some people beg to differ. It makes a lot of sense to be the change you wish to see in the world, because you’re the only person in the world that you can change.
So, soften your tone. Read, or listen to, each other's stories. Smile. And know that in the end, the little empathies will prevail.