What are the Problems People Fail to Empathize with?

“He doesn’t deserve a Namaz Janaza (Islamic funeral),” I was shocked when I heard a friend pass this judgment on a suicide victim. She was announcing her judgment without any consideration for what could have caused the victim to choose a death which is considered a crime by law and religion. At another instance, I found a woman being ridiculed by some other fortunate ones of the same gender for lacking the ability to cope with domestic problems that caused her distress. “This happens with everyone but one must have the power to tolerate everything.” I found an elderly woman say and then she went on to count the troubles she had faced and the patience she had shown by bearing everything and proving herself as the best example for others to follow.  I could see that not understanding the one failing to live life and the other suffering because of domestic violence clearly revealed lack of empathy.

It has been observed that developing societies like ours in Pakistan are complex when it comes to empathy as they place their concern for others in certain situations and with certain problems only. Domestic issues and the sufferings because of them clearly don’t deserve any empathetic concern, especially, if the one suffering happens to be a woman because women are trained and taught since childhood to act like a sponge, absorbing all the negativity they have to face in the form of violence (both emotional and physical), exploitations, injustices and discriminations, just to keep a family together. Furthermore, men in our societies are bound to suffer alone, without the moral support of others because of the stereotypical role of earners, caretaker, decision maker and protector. In addition, children are judged on hard conditions in case they lag behind in academics.

Problems that women endure and people fail to recognize

When a woman as the caretaker of the family fails to fit in with the society because of so many genuine reasons, she is considered as an intolerant: lacking patience which happens to be the greatest value to testify a woman’s worth. She has to be as hard as a rock to bear all the blows of the harsh realities in her life without saying a word. It is for this reason that women keep bearing hardships, especially those that emerge from domestic situations and the society when it turns evil and atrocious. It is for these reasons that most of the domestic violence cases are not reported as according to a study conducted by Aga Khan University in 2017, most of the domestic violence cases were preferred to be kept hidden because intimate partner violence against women is considered as a private matter which shouldn’t be disclosed outside the family.

Similarly, women are rarely rewarded for their domestic work. “Fulfilling responsibilities at home is a full-time job. You don’t get any leave for that or any financial return for that, but when they scornfully ask you, what do you do at home all day? It hurts,” said a housewife who looks after an aged mother-in-law, four children who are school going and her husband. Similarly, a working woman is expected to stay equally vigilant at home in terms of fulfilling the household responsibilities.  “You don’t get exempted from any of the work and men are not supposed to help in cooking, cleaning and washing. It is against the tradition. So your workload multiplies though you are working and contributing equally,” told me a female colleague.

In such cases, a women would be scorned at if she would expect others to understand that managing home and office at the same time with equal efforts could be a problem and one should be handed some help at home because she would be probably told that she is not the only one working hard    or who else is supposed to do that if not her.

Men’s stresses and societies brutal reactions

Similarly, men are supposed to act strong and firm in the face of all odds. The stereotypical role society provides them has been the source of discomfort for this gender too. In more traditional patriarchal societies, a man is expected to dominate and show control and power over his woman folk, especially his wife. A man treating woman otherwise is held up to ridicule for not having the right power as he is termed ‘baghairat’, a term in Urdu used which portrays the man as somebody who has been unable to protect the female folks in his care, and hence proved himself less courageous. Here, society doesn’t try to empathize with a man and leaves no room for him to explain his circumstances or his perspective on life. Similarly, a man is not supposed to cry to vent out his emotions or show any kind of weakness lest he is accused of cowardice. Owing to the said reasons, men deviating from the tradition of patriarchal set up fail in gaining the compassion of others and sometimes succumb to the pressure.

Children’s troubles and parents’ lack of less empathetic responses

Parents in contexts where education and literacy don’t touch people’s personal lives, fail to understand their children’s inability to meet their expectations in studies. Also, children’s inclinations towards different fields and their innate skills are not appreciated if these do not fall on parents set standards. Moreover, parents are not friendly with their children and there is so much gap in understanding that children hesitate in sharing their problems and expectations with their parents. This comes to my observation during parent-teacher meetings where fathers most often get aggressive when teachers share any weakness that the child has and can be improved with positive support. Some of them go to the extent of threatening their teenage sons with remarks like, “I will see you at home,” or “Just wait and see what I’ll do with you!”

Sometimes parents look frustrated even with the students that we, as teachers, appreciate for their tremendous performance in academics and fine qualities in a person. For instance, one of the mothers complained about a child saying, “He spends a lot of time in community service which is not good for him.” Another father was complaining that his son was not as social as his other brother and he seemed to lack confidence which he didn’t approve much. At such times, the looks of disappointments on the faces of those children highlight the dilemma of the society. Also, at such times we find it hard to explain to the parents that different children have different natures and interests and one child cannot be exactly like the other.

The impact of lack of empathy on the lives of families

It is for these reasons that certain problems are not shared in our society and people do not seek help for these issues. They are left unsaid and unresolved.  Two people having a problem in marriage are expected to continue it despite this that they clearly have expressed their dislike for each other a thousand times. They are supposed to drag their family through the hardships of discomfort with each other for the sake of their children: those children who have been victimized by the everyday battle between parents at home. Hence, such are the problems that should not be said or they find people putting their own best examples before them without making an effort to put themselves in their shoes and try to understand their situation. As a result, people pile up these problems in the form of stress which ultimately emerges in the form of disease: mental or physical.

Similarly, children receive negative effects on their personalities for the comparisons and high expectations they are put through.  This results in low self-esteem, and distractions towards self-harming approaches to vent out the pressure built on them.

Let us be empathetic

It is essential for us to develop empathy in our society for the particular problems that have damaging effects on the lives of people. This can be done by creating awareness through education, media and generally developing and empathetic attitude as parents, teachers and elders of the community by modeling compassion and recognizing less-acknowledged issues as something genuine, existing and requiring empathy and compassion. So instead of judging a victim of divorce, suicide, and failure, we must try to understand the circumstances that have brought them to the particular extreme, and try to support such people practically and morally.