As with many things, I have a deep appreciation for but a superficial involvement in mathematics and its concepts. The mathematical expression of inequality is denoted by the terms “less than” and “more than”, which simplifies and stresses the pervasiveness of this label, when used during interpersonal relations. “Less than” or “more than” is not limited to “a compartment of a human” but spread its tentacles into every molecule of a person’s sense of worth, identity and psyche, even crossing generations to apply its devastating effects on children not yet born.
My observations and conclusions regarding how this phenomenon has manifested during the times of COVID-19 are those of a believer and one who feels a sense of responsibility to different parts of what makes up the world we live in. One could say, that my outlook is emotionally driven, a trait that is not often celebrated in medicine, and has resulted in very artificial attempts to separate “clinical” me, “organizational” me and “feeling” me to fit the necessary audience – most members of whom have only an imagined influence on my present or future. This practice of compartmentalisation is futile – humanity is a function of individual human beings, along with the complexities that define us, and cannot be measured in fragments. Empathy and dirty hands are essential to the solutions.
Addressing inequality requires courage to engage with the uncomfortable and sometimes painful responses in oneself – and working through guilt for “having”. This guilt is not useful – it results in defensiveness – and the abandonment of any progress in this exercise of engagement. Examining this guilt is like looking in a mirror, and is a giant step toward the practical solutions we are looking for. It is not a great place of departure for decision-making, but it is a wonderful place to acquire perspective. It is not a great place to respond from, but it is a definite sign of mental and spiritual growth.
Empathy is on the other side of this guilt. It is yet another place of tension, but a purer place. One that results in authentic sharing of experiences, and therefore more effective solutions. I believe most people have the ability to access this superpower – some more than others – but it is not celebrated on the same stages as efficiency, profit and comfort. As has been toted on many a meme, the global idolization of these prizes, have contributed substantially to the situation we are in.
Disregarding empathy in our daily interactions results in a sense of losing touch. While it is necessary to hold the ruling rich accountable for spreading the wealth – we become unaware of the moments where we are undeniably – the privileged. We might even fail to see the reality of the disproportion of our own riches. It is uncomfortable to have ones “lifestyle” examined under these terms, and it is easy to retreat to the sanctuary of one’s possessions or to justify their acquisition as a reward for really hard work. Once one engages with empathy, unfortunately, the truth emerges as clear as day – that everyone is working hard.
Embracing empathy offers entry into a charged cloud of solutionist thinking.
One of the contemporary scholars giving words to these ill-defined but powerful principles, and one of my favourite authors, Brene Brown says, “If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!”
The solutions to this crisis and probably many others are not those that make economic sense, but the ones that result in true transformation.