Sympathy/empathy and the -isms

I not only consider myself as a feminist, but in general I’m in favor of equality if you deserve it. If you’re mean, you don’t deserve equality. I had an unsavory discussion with someone that is considered in a position of power and it left me a little bitter. This was in reference to a few topics that I don’t like arguing because they never go anywhere, but I’ll just say it’s around people who are victims that get blamed. The majority of these comments have come from white males, but not all. I don’t think it’s entirely because they’re white males. I think it’s because they come from strong families and have aggressive personalities.  By strong I mean parents that instill certain behaviors, with plenty of money and opportunity to ensure a successful adult.

Now, I have a friend who has studied a lot of philosophy and there’s this topic he and I have discussed about empathy. He says that it’s tough to have empathy because no one can truly experience the exact same scenario. But society interprets empathy as a nearly similar experience. For instance, my father died, so if someone else’s father dies I can experience empathy. Whereas, without having the exact same upbringing and similar experiences I can’t truly have empathy. We just have a commonality. I’m not going to say if he’s right or wrong, I’m just relating this to another discussion we had.

In a real example, there were cases of messed up researchers performing psychology research on students in which they would berate the student and observe EEG waves or fMRI. The students are free to leave, but usually won’t because they listen to authority or feel they will be letting someone down. In a recent conversation I was told, “The students should have just left. I don’t feel bad about the psychological trauma they experienced.” Likewise, given the Hollywood stuff lately, some people are saying that the person is free to leave at any time. Yes, the women (and some men) had the right to leave, but without really being in their heads; understanding what they are thinking and their past experiences we can’t assume it would have been easy to defuse or walk away from that situation. In general, I assume that no one is like me. And, I’m not correct all the time, but I am correct here. No one is exactly the same, and I can’t assume reacting rationally is always easy. Some think they are experiencing empathy for someone else, but without having lived the same life, especially considering socioeconomic differences, we can’t have the true-est form of empathy. Now, there are some situations that can be argued with, but I’m not here to argue, I’m just here to explain how I go about my interactions with people. I’ve noticed some more jaded members of the ivory tower making strong assumptions about students and the ways they should react in certain situations. Whereas I feel they should be approaching the students with a blank slate and taking in information to build a picture of how this person is.  That being said, some students are entitled shitholes and should be treated as such.

My department’s students are relatively diverse, but the faculty are not. I’m noticing a huge disconnect and a complete lack of understanding that these students are different. Now, I’m not asking for any kind of crazy accommodations, but people need to at least be aware that not every student is going to handle adversity in the same way. That maybe a sexist comment in front of female students is not what should be said, that working on a Sunday when you’re of certain religious beliefs shouldn’t be forced on the student, and that if there’s a student isolating him/herself in social situations that happens to be a different race that maybe they need a little crutch if you can help it. I don’t know why, but lately especially I’ve been very annoyed with people not understanding that not everything works the way that it did growing up with a silver spoon in a WASP household.

Industry has a lot of this, but there’s a built-in mechanism of public perception that can sometimes compensate.  People are usually (eventually) held accountable to the point where they over-shoot the political correctness (whereas you can’t get fired from the ivory tower).  People over-trying to act like people are equal, rather than just realizing there’s unconscious bias and that we just need to treat people the same.  I know that’s much easier said than done, but I personally like to start from the thought of they’re equal on a metaphysical level, but as different from me as can be.  And knowing this and going into every situation with as much respect as possible is the key.  And for some reason the white dudes I’ve been interacting with lately just don’t fucking get this.

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