Does Everyone Around You Talk About Empathy Too?

Does it sometimes feel like it is overwhelming to cultivate it? I have been listening to TED talks, podcasts and seminars in the past year and whenever we get to the point of sustainabsustainability in the world, the first word I hear is empathy. We all know what that is, but a question always pinned me.

How could I know what someone was going through without experiencing it myself?

How empathy works

I always tried to figure it out, because it was important to get to the root of the problem. This week, Amal’s project “Getting Closer to Your Problem” made me step out and see what I couldn’t before. I learned we cannot sit quietly simply because we think we will never be able to understand the people’s problem.

I had a lot of problems in mind that I wanted to address but I most care about hunger and malnutrition, a very common problem in Pakistan. Creating a clear and deep picture of the problem required work and effort. For that, I had to be with the ones facing the problems and see it for myself. I went out to a nearby street where one can always see a lot of people begging for food and money.

A homeless man eating on road

I tried to talk to a few of them but they were quite reluctant to do so. I wanted to talk to them to hear their side of the story. Finally, I found a kid, a frail pathan kid with grey eyes, who was willing to talk in return for some food. I gave him the food to create a sense of connection between us. As I handed the food over to him, I asked him why he sold those masks. His answer was the one I had heard many times, “We have nothing to do except this. We kids have to support our family.”

Kids selling masks to earn for food

I asked him about how often he gets to decide what he to eat. His answer was heartbreaking as he said, “We eat anything we get, it just has to be food. Even if we earn enough money to cook at home, we try to keep the food as inexpensive as possible so we can save for another meal.”

This conversation opened my eyes on how quality food has become a privilege only certain people enjoy and how we as a society are helping these people survive by giving them food, but not the food they need to live a healthy life.

Child Labourers

An old man said that after the lockdown, they had lost their ways of earning. They beg to get enough money to buy food. After hearing about what food they were able to eat in a day, I could guess that food just fulfilled hunger temporarily and wasn’t healthy enough for them. Talking with these people helped me devise my problem statement.

Due to increased inflation and lack of quality in the food underserved people get, hunger has brought with itself malnutrition. People are forced to eat anything they can find to satisfy their hunger and quality food has become a dream for such people. These people do not have the skillset or education to create their own jobs and earn quality food for themselves.

Kids eating discarded food

If this continues, it will create a vicious cycle of hunger similar to what we see in Thar. Kids die everyday from hunger and malnutrition. Those who survive struggle to feed their bodies with food of no use. To prevent the whole country from this cycle, we need to focus not only on food, but on nutritious food. Another problem we need to focus on alongside is illiteracy, which I identified as the prime reason of hunger.

Empathy will not come to us as something automated. We will have to build it through exposure and understanding.

Through this experience, I learned that there is no one reason for hunger, malnutrition, or poverty. It is all interconnected in a way that it is difficult to perceive. It is also not as simple as it seems from our point of view. This project helped me pinpoint and identify problems we normally oversee.

The key takeaway was that if we want to solve someone’s problems, we should at least try to join our feet with them at a time when it seems impossible to stand in their shoes.

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