Arrival, Partisanship, and COVID… More Importantly, Something Like Empathy

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There has been this idea that I have had for quite a while to make this post. It started out titled “Arrival, Partisanship, and Trump (maybe).” I added maybe in parenthesis because dealing with Trump as an idea, a person, and all that comes along with his presidency, what people believe about him, on either side, is such a huge ask for anybody. To ask it of myself without expecting to gain much from it besides maybe some blog views seemed…

Well, like a lot.

To be clear I did not like Trump. I couldn’t stand the things he represented in my mind and in the minds of many others. Yet I sit here trying to write something that can reach both sides of the “aisle” so to speak. Why? Because I can’t help but look at the world like it’s possible for people to come together. Different backgrounds, different races, different sexes, religious beliefs, genders, economic status’, and, yes, even political parties. I can’t help but hope.

Yet, how to bring that about? Large question, right? A big, cumbersome, seemingly unanswerable, question. One that I assume some of you even wonder why I would ask because… How is it possible?

I’ve thought about it for months, done research that led nowhere, and I think, somehow, I finally have the right answer. Even if it is about as hopeful as can be. The answer is something like empathy.

Now, why do I bring up the film Arrival at all? Well, it is quite possibly the most beautiful movie I have ever seen. Sure it looks great. The cinematography is excellent and what not. Yet the real reason I believe it is one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen has to do with what I took from it. The perspective it brought to me.

I really don’t want to spoil Arrival so I won’t. If you haven’t seen it I would suggest watching it. All I will say is that it is about aliens arriving from a different planet and what exactly the world would do if aliens arrived on earth, stayed in their ships, and waited for us to do whatever we would do.

Now, for those of you who have not seen the film yet this may be hard to understand. Hell, even for some of you that have seen it you may not see what I saw in the film. I’m not even sure this idea is what the filmmaker intended to get across with the movie. No matter the message they intended with the movie when I watch Arrival my mind runs to pro-life vs pro-choice arguments.

To be clear I am pro-choice (although I find the pro-life and pro-choice names quite manipulative in the first place). Yet after having viewed Arrival I feel I have a bit more of an understanding of the feelings that someone on the pro-life side of the argument has in their heart. It actually seems quite terrible that it takes a film that may have nothing to do with abortion in so many ways to in fact lead me to this “understanding.” Yet, here I am espousing that I think I understand pro-lifers a little more due to having viewed the film. Due to what I take from it at the least.

At the least I feel sympathy for their viewpoint.

Does this make me want to change my opinion about abortion? No.

Am I still appalled at what some pro-lifers are willing to do and say to or about people that are pro-choice? About women that need to get an abortion? Yes.

Yet I actually empathize and sympathize quite a bit with the actual belief that we should not abort what is assumed to be an unborn soul.

This type of empathy is considered both cognitive and emotional empathy.

Which brings me to a need to explain that there are three types of empathy. The first is cognitive, second is emotional, third and finally is compassionate.

Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand how a person feels and what they might be thinking. Cognitive empathy makes us better communicators, because it helps us relay information in a way that best reaches the other person. 

Emotional empathy (also known as affective empathy) is the ability to share the feelings of another person. Some have described it as “your pain in my heart.” This type of empathy helps you build emotional connections with others. 

Compassionate empathy (also known as empathic concern) goes beyond simply understanding others and sharing their feelings: it actually moves us to take action, to help however we can. 

To illustrate how these three branches of empathy work together, imagine that a friend has recently lost a close family member. Your natural reaction may be sympathy, a feeling of pity, or sorrow. Sympathy may move you to express condolences or to send a card–and your friend may appreciate these actions. 

But showing empathy takes more time and effort. It begins with cognitive empathy: imagining what the person is going through. Who did they lose? How close were they to this person? Besides feelings of pain and loss, how will their life now change?

Emotional empathy will help you not only understand your friend’s feelings, but share them somehow. You try to connect with something in yourself that knows the feeling of deep sorrow and emotional pain. You might remember how it felt when you lost someone close, or imagine how you would feel if you haven’t had that experience. 

Finally, compassionate empathy moves you to take action. You might provide a meal, so your friend doesn’t need to worry about cooking. You could offer to help make necessary phone calls or do some chores around the house. Maybe you could go over to help keep them company; or, if they need to be alone, you could pick up the children and watch them for a while. 

This is just one example of how empathy works, but every day will bring new opportunities to develop this trait. In fact, every interaction you share with another person is a chance to see things from a different perspective, to share their feelings, and to help.” (https://www.inc.com/justin-bariso/there-are-actually-3-types-of-empathy-heres-how-they-differ-and-how-you-can-develop-them-all.html)

So how does this all connect with partisanship, with COVID?

Well I was speaking with my therapist the other day and I brought up the idea of this blog post. I had an idea connected with empathy, yet once I brought up my idea my therapist and I disagreed on what empathy entailed. I saw empathy as the understanding of an emotion that somebody else is feeling. She disagreed. This disagreement seemed to come to a head with the way I had decided to talk about empathy.

My reason for even bringing the idea up to her was the idea of being able to feel the same fear someone who is now in the ICU with COVID who didn’t get vaccinated and believed all of the things I believe are bullshit about the vaccine. With our disagreement she explained how many may not feel the same empathy for these peoples fears that I do. Leading me to more of an understanding that my empathy came from a place of dealing with my own mental illness and having believed so many things that weren’t true (in fact having acted on those beliefs in my own life) and having to realize in a harsh way that they were not the facts I thought they were.

Yet, both my therapist and I agreed on one thing very much so. This idea of empathy without understanding was interesting at the least.

It is.

In fact it could be huge if we could act on it as people who believe vastly different things throughout the world and on either side of the aisle in our country. If we could simply look at the feeling that someone else is feeling and empathize with that alone how different things might be.

Think of all the people you know who have been vaccinated and are angry, annoyed, etc. at people who are unvaccinated. Think of all the people who are unvaccinated because of their belief that it is an intrusion on their freedom or whatever else. Aren’t both of these groups feeling fear right now. One may fear death due to the virus while the other may fear a loss of freedom. Is there some way we could get past judgement of why people feel the thing they feel and empathize with the feeling alone?

My god would it be hard for us in so many ways to do this, but…

Is it impossible?

We need more empathy in the world. There is no question about that. If we could simply empathize with just the feelings people are feeling and not judge how they got to that feeling in the first place could we not… well… come together a little closer? You know, actually listen to each others ideas a little more? Get people to change their mind.

It sounds absurd in so many ways, but I’m going to try. I’m just asking, can you?

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