Don’t Read to Reply: A Lesson About Empathy

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Don't Read to Reply: A Lesson About Empathy

One of our biggest communication problems is we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply.

I found that nugget of wisdom on Pinterest via LifeHack.Org.

And I think this quote can relate to how we consume stories online. Many people read to reply.

If there is one quality that is in dire supply on the internet, it would have to be empathy.

I believe empathy is one of the greatest gifts we can give anyone. But sadly, it’s a quality that lacks miserably on the internet.

empathy definition
Image via The Minds Journal

I’ve been writing on the internet for over 2 years (over 5 years if you count my blog) for a large media company and I’ve recently started to dabble in managing a large social media page. I enjoy the work. But every week I’m often taken aback by the rudeness and lack of empathy by people on the internet.

Being the curious person I am, I always click through to the profile of the person who’s left a crappy comment, to get an understanding of who they are and whether they are a random troll who has nothing better to do.

Unfortunately, many look to be normal people who are active on Facebook, sharing happy snaps of their family and friends.

I expect bitter comments to come from people who have been hard done by in life. (Maybe I’m wrong to assume this). I don’t expect happy people to spew negativity on a page or story.

And yet they do. They read a story and offer an opinion on why a tragedy happened and victim blame the parents or whoever the story is about, with the connotation the victim brought the tragedy on themselves.

Accidents happen every day. People make mistakes every day.

People do stupid stuff everyday, without meaning to.

I’ve done stupid stuff and have lived to tell the tale.

I’ll tell you one of the most stupidest things I’ve ever done, that could have cost me my life.

When I was 16, I had a fabulous desk set up in my room for study. I had a computer and a cd player which required electricity to run. I only had a 2 socket power point and required more, so I used a powerboard to feed my computer and cd player.

I can’t remember what new appliance I plugged into my powerboard, but when I unplugged it out, the metal prongs/plugs got stuck in the powerboard. I was shocked I had accidentally broken whatever appliance I had unplugged. But the worst shock of all happened when I didn’t think and I went to try and remove the prongs from the powerboard WITH THE ELECTRICITY STILL ON.

I got an almighty hand-tingling zap and didn’t realise how stupid my mistake was until after I touched it.

Usually people don’t live to tell tales like that. Maybe the loading from the powerboard meant I didn’t get the full current of electricity. Who knows. Maybe I had a guardian angel.

I never told my parents because I was more worried about breaking the appliance than my scare.

But how awful would it have been for my parents to have walked into my room, and seen me electrocuted because I’d done a very silly thing? Thank God that didn’t happen.

But accidents like that can happen in the blink of an eye. My brain told me I needed to get those plugs out, but I didn’t think about the danger of what I was doing. We can momentarily not think in a moment and not realise our mistake until it’s fatal.

That’s why I try to empathise with people who get caught up in horrific situations. Even ones that could have been easily avoided. We just don’t know what a person was thinking in that moment. They may not have been thinking at all. (Ever driven home and wondered if you stopped at all the red lights? Or have you ever left home and wondered if you turned your hair straightener off? Put the garage door down?)

Last week, I wrote about a teenager who got electrocuted in the bath because she accidentally dropped her iPhone in the water while it was charging. She was 16. She was a normal teen, doing something she’d loved. I was horrified at the comments blaming the parents. Yeah, it was a silly thing to do, to take a charging phone into the bath to listen to music, but it was also a tragedy. And a little empathy for the family would have been a better response. But we don’t empathise, we victim criticise.

We do it with every tragedy that could have been avoided.

lack of empathy quote

For many of us that work on the internet, this sort of thing is nothing new. But what have we turned into? For every tragedy that is written on the internet, there are so many comments that lack empathy. Too many people read to reply on a post, rather than read and think about the gravity of the tragedy. A life was lost. A precious life that meant so much to someone WAS LOST.

Unfortunately it’s the same in the construction industry. No one can make a mistake without a new safe work method statement being drawn up so workers can avoid it happening again. No one wants to get hurt on a job site. And I understand we need procedures in place to prevent workers from getting hurt. What safe work method statements don’t take into account is human nature. People aren’t perfect. Accidents will happen. You can write as many ways to avoid an accident, but you can not predict human nature. Our human nature will find a way to add another update to the work method statement.

Because no one is perfect.

My heart can get so heavy from hearing about unfortunate accidents, or writing about the warnings from families who want their stories to be known so other families don’t experience a similar loss. And the best response we can give is empathy and to learn from their tragedy.

I don’t care how avoidable the tragedy could have been. Respect the grieving family. We can never be too sensitive to a family who has lost someone precious in the blink of an eye.

Do you get sad about the tragedies you read online? Do you get sick of the victim blaming and lack of empathy? Why is it so easy to criticise than empathise?