Have We Lost Our Ability to Empathize Or Is It The Internet’s Fault?
…Or maybe we humans are just capable of terrible things
If it weren’t for my job, I would’ve left social media years ago. Maybe I’d have a Finsta or Facebook so I can be part of family or parent groups. It’s not that I don’t care to know what’s going on with a childhood friend’s life or what’s going on with the rest of the world that directly affects me and the people around me. But there are things better left unsaid or unshared. Yep, I mean from salty comments to the seriously detrimental and disturbing “pa-rape kayo,” and rando “me, just hangin’ with my 7-inch” pics to someone’s actual nudes made public.
What Is Empathy
Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Also known as perspective taking, it refers to a person’s ability to identify and understand another’s emotions.
When we were kids, everything we did was based on the Golden Rule: do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Be nice if you want to be treated nicely. Share your baon if you want a bite of your classmate’s snack. But doing something because you want a similar thing to be said/ done/ given to you is not exactly empathy; it’s more cause-and-effect. You want something in return whereas empathy is recognizing another’s feelings as you predetermine or observe their reactions through body language, tone of voice, etc. To be empathic is to be aware of such social cues.
Part of my daily routine is to check social media for work and boy, the stuff I read in the comments section, whether our own or others, for the most part, are appalling. It doesn’t matter if the subject is about politics or religion, movies or even hair dye; people are so eager to start a fire with cruel and bitter criticisms that, ironically, are triggered by feelings. We’re so quick to dismiss individuals on the opposing side or with controversial choices as dumb or “tanga.” More so because we are safely losing our shit behind screens and we don’t see how the other person or group is feeling. You won’t get slapped across the face for homophobic slurs or flashing a dick pic to get your bigger-is-better-in-bed point across.
Empathy online is close to non-existent because there are no social cues to guide us through a conversation. We don’t hear another’s tone of voice when an honest inquiry is made about a subject one knows little about. We don’t see how a person is so deeply hurt or scarred by comments that invalidates another’s issues, sexuality or being.
In an interview I had with a trans personality when he came out some years ago, he became the subject of scrutiny and vitriol for sharing his truth. People didn’t have to agree with his choices, but online comments like (with screenshots to prove and will really make you feel uncomfortable), “pa-rape kayo sa lalaki” were so disturbing, you wonder if they were made by humans at all.
Opinions, Opinions, Opinions
We all have our opinions, sentiments and varying perceptions on the “right” ways of doing things. Sure, we might be entitled to them, but the manner by which we express ourselves can be so terrible. So is it the Internet’s fault?
I’m no expert, but if I’m basing it on sheer observation, my answer is no, it’s not the Internet or social media; it’s us. History and screenshots are evidence to what we humans are capable of, and we can be really shitty to one another depending on the level of desire to push one’s agenda. We’ve weaponized the web to do or say things we can’t in real life because there are no checks and balances, no real consequences, just algorithms that use data and patterns to temporarily address, not prevent or resolve, problematic behavior.
So the next time you want to call someone out or have the urge to share controversial opinion, try to empathize with the person or party on the receiving end and ask questions to understand what they’re really saying. Don’t argue; don’t be the smug asshole who just wants to be right about everything.
Besides, insults and cruel criticisms don’t make you the better, smarter, morally upright or more correct person. It just makes you a bigot, regardless which side you’re on.
Art Alexandra Lara