Sunday, 17 January 2016

Weakness or Empathy?

I once again find myself in the countryside of Eastern Uganda. This time I am travelling with a team whose purpose is to understand child trafficking in the area. Many of you will recognize that I am surely finding this interesting, but that’s not one of the subjects for which I’m passionate. You will also, likely, recognize the intensity of the subject matter, and why this might be a challenging topic for me – or anyone – to face.

After a full day of interviewing locals about their experiences, and hearing heartbreaking tale after heartbreaking tale, we came together to debrief what had taken place throughout the day. A comment was made, light-heartedly (I think…err hope!) about how one individual noticed some of us on the verge of tears, but that we didn’t cry, because we were not weak. And that got me thinking, why would that be a sign of weakness?

Weakness is defined as “a quality or feature that prevents someone or something from being effective or useful.” I’ve noticed here and in many other areas of the world that any show of emotion is considered a sign of weakness; but I have to disagree. Sure, having a breakdown would not have been conducive to the task at hand, nevertheless emitting emotion is a difficult thing to do – let alone own. Having the ability to empathize with someone or a circumstance for which you have not yourself experienced, I think, makes you a stronger human. Emoting empathy is one of the most difficult things a person can do. Being able to listen, without pity or judgment, is not an easy task. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back by claiming that I have that ability – but I do, and I’m proud of it!

I’m not sure why society – perhaps on a global scale – tries to sell emotion as weakness. Is it a defense mechanism for those unable to show it? It is an act of the powerful to appear more in control towards those who have not met their economic or social standing, or whatever form of categorization they might be using to differentiate themselves from those they consider lesser than? I think there is a balance between emotion and being able to lead in a stable, yet understanding way. Simply stating that a show of tears is weak is not a means of portraying strength, or even good leadership for that matter. That statement in and of itself – to me at least – is a sign of weakness.

So, while I wasn’t brought to tears, even when some of the stories I’d been told were worthy of them, it left me feeling sad, defeated, and unable to help. Shedding a tear or two, I’m not sure, would have been a horrible thing to do, given the subject matter.
It wouldn’t have made me weak if those statements had made me cry. It wouldn’t have made me unable to perform the task at hand, if I had cried, either. It would have made me human. It would have been a perfectly natural and acceptable response if I had chosen to show my heartbreak in that way. But, I didn’t – not because I didn’t want to, but because my need to just get through the day outweighed my ability to just sob.

And sob I did when I got home.


-the Orange Canadian

1 comment:

  1. Tks very much for your post.

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