Monday, April 7, 2014

UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE THROUGH EMPATHY





 UNDERSTANDING OF LIFE THROUGH EMPATHY





I was pretty taken in by Devadutta Pattnaiks interpretations of mythology and his endeavor to apply them to resolve the problems of the modern world. The clash between the East and West or even the North and South is age old and exists at various levels. It percolates even to the ethos of business practices carried out by various nations. Quite understandably the clash is not because a certain culture, region or nation or its practice is better or worse than the other – but rather because they believe in the superiority of their world views. The most regrettable and shameful remnant of this clash that comes to my mind is the treatment meted out to the north-eastern citizens of India by their counter parts in other regions -Delhi being one of the places in eye of controversy for these kind of attacks.

In his lecture Mr. Pattnaik speaks of the encounter between Alexander and the Gymnosophist (probably a yogi) at the banks of Indus. Alexander the great conqueror crosses path with the Gymnosophist who is gazing at the sky, moon and stars. Alexander is quiet perplexed and cannot decipher why a person would waste his life in this futile manner. On being asked by Alexander about the purpose of his act, the Gymnosophist confides that he is trying to experience “Nothingness”. On being asked Alexander too revels his purpose in life, namely to conquer the world. Each of the men smiles at the others foolishness. They each believe that the other is in pursuit of a wasteful goal


The truth however is that both Alexander and Gymnosophist are not just two different persons but also people from 2 different cultures. Each has been shaped by disparate belief systems, world views, upbringing etc. This lack of understanding of the “others” world is the root of all clashes. When we fail to empathize and consider our world or our understanding of the world as the best, we tend to look down upon the other person and his/her world. We utterly disregard the belief system, the values, life experiences and perception of the other person and are happy in our complacent views of the world. We forget that there no one reality or one truth but rather different truths.

Yes! Truth too can have different faces. Facts may remain unchanged but each person’s truth is shaped by his/her experiences and beliefs. For one individual when it rains the truth is that it resurfaces memories of the accident that happened one rainy day and bereft him/her of loved ones. So for that person the truth is rainy days are bad days. For someone else a rainy day brings memories of playing in puddles with friends and keeping paper boats afloat. Hence a rainy day is a happy day for such a person. The truths of these 2 different persons are shaped by their experiences and not just by the fact that it rains.


  So what is it that can save us from chaos stemming out of lack understanding? Well as a sociologist I feel that the answer is quiet simple. We just have to be more patient and empathetic human beings. There is no magic syrup we drink to inject this thing called empathy, it comes with expanding our minds, and remaining in touch with our human side.

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