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John Lam's Blog

2022-01-05

On the importance of empathy

In case we need to be reminded of it, not everyone who we disagree with is motivated by some evil thing. In the words of Ted Lasso (not actually Walt Whitman):

You know Rupert, guys have underestimated me my entire life. And for years I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day I was driving my little boy to school and I saw this quote from Walt Whitman painted on the wall there that said “Be curious. Not Judgmental.” I like that.

So I get back in my car and I’m driving to work and all of sudden it hits me. All them fellas who used to belittle me, not a single one of them was curious. You know, they thought they had everything figured out. So they judged everything. And they judged everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me, who I was had nothing to do with it. Because if they were curious, they would have asked questions. You know. Questions like, have you played a lot of darts, Ted? Which I would have answered. Yes sir. Every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father from age 10 to 16 when he passed away.

Barbecue sauce.

This quote is from this excellent scene from Ted Lasso:

Sadly, there's been a lot of non-empathetic judgemental behavior during the pandemic. A lot of it from me, I'm ashamed to admit.

I've really enjoyed watching the growth of Lex Fridman ever since I discovered him a few years ago. Recently, he's begun to talk more about the importance of empathy and to be open and really listen to other people in the absence of judgement.

A relevant quote from the opening:

Those who advocate for lockdowns as a policy often ignore the quiet suffering of millions that it results in which includes economic pain, loss of jobs that give meaning and pride in the face of uncertainty ... Many folks whose job is unaffected by the lockdowns talk down to the masses about which path forward is right and which is wrong. What troubles me most is this very lack of empathy among the policymakers for the common man and in general for people who are unlike themselves.

I had a really hard time with the realization that comes from listening to this and subsequently looking at myself in the mirror. Divisiveness is not the answer to any of the problems that we have. Nor should public campaigns be waged to silence the heretics. This is a good reminder to me and I will strive to do better.