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A Culture of Empathy: Words and Actions Impact Hearts by Dr Shalini Yadav

A Culture of Empathy: Words and Actions Impact Hearts

Dr Shalini Yadav

The way you speak to others can offer them joy, happiness, self-confidence, hope, trust and enlightenment. Mindful speaking is a deep practice. --Thich Nhat Hanh

The power of language is undeniable in shaping our interactions and impacting those around us. Words and actions have the potential to either uplift or harm others, and it is our responsibility to choose our words wisely.

Speaking about others without empathy, common sense, and mindfulness is a prevalent issue in today’s society. The recent experience I had at a function highlighted the harmful consequences of such behavior. As someone who has gained extra pounds and is dealing with osteoarthritis, I found myself, inadvertently becoming the talk of the town, due to walking slower during the event.

In a society where appearances are often given more importance than personal well-being, it is disheartening to witness the lack of empathy towards those who may not fit within the narrow confines of societal beauty or health standards. Body shaming, a form of bullying, has become far too common in our lives, perpetuating negative stereotypes and damaging self-esteem.

During the function, I was bombarded with unsolicited advice and suggestions from so called well-bred and sensible individuals like hydra heads who took it upon themselves to diagnose and offer solutions for my health concerns. From recommending various health products to suggesting exercise routines and diet plans, they piled on advice after advice without letting me breathe or bearing in mind how I might feel at the juncture. Now I receive so many reels on Instagram and videos on whatsapp full of knowledge what to eat what not to, what to drink, how to do exercise, it seems they all want to practice their skills on me as burgeoning doctors, dietitians, health coaches and physiotherapists without proper degrees in the discipline.

This incident made me ponder and reflects a lack of mindfulness and common sense on the part of the people involved. They failed to put themselves in my shoes, to understand how their words and actions might affect me. It is essential for individuals to practice empathy and sensitivity towards others, especially when discussing personal matters such as health or body image or what a person might be going through mentally when his or her body is already betraying.

In the context of Indian society, such stereotypes are deeply ingrained, making it challenging for individuals to escape the judgment and criticism at social gatherings. The pressure to conform to certain beauty or health standards can have severe consequences on one’s mental well-being and overall self-esteem. We need to challenge these norms and create a society where everyone is accepted and celebrated, regardless of their appearance or physical disabilities.

Lou-Abdrea Callewaert, a well-known writer from France, with her pen name ‘Lancali’ writes in her novel ‘I Fell in Love with Hope’- “Time, disease and death steal everything”. People who are obese or disabled or have auto-immune diseases or facing any other kind of severe illness are taken as more vulnerable or defenseless to give all kind of gyan (knowledge) when they are already fighting their own never-ending battles with demons of diseases every second. When you don’t know what they go through inside every moment, you need not to torture them more by unsought suggestions. They might be already envisaging their corpses hanging on windowpanes every night or their organs falling frail and pathetic day by day as the disease is greedy in its own way and wants more of them making their nights sleepless with reflections that gradually become their realities.

While such folks with chronic diseases try to make themselves strong or prepare themselves psychologically, mentally and physically to depart from this earthly abode or effort to survive utmost with nerve, self-respect and courage, and if they are making strenuous efforts to do so creating an invisible fence from the rest of the world, family and relatives or the whole world, it should be understood and revered rather than throwing all information available to everyone at hand provided by Google Baba.

Tik-tok, tik-tok of time, disease and death! Pills, X-rays, MRIs, Blood tests, Surgeries, ICUs! So much is already there for encroachment in their territories. People with overfull counsels that they want to drain grabbing such feeble souls, who are already going through a lot, must have some conscience.

Karma! Quid pro quo! Some are even ruthless and would say behind the back or even at face being so callous that it is all because of your bad karma or past sins, you’re going through this disorder or disease. Who the hell are they to decide? And what about that sinful act, they are doing just using their poisonous tongue against a pulverized person. One of my cousin, quite young, recently left for heavenly abode, to the fact he was suffering from auto immune disease past few years and at his mourning meeting again to my surprise, I heard kinfolks whispering about his bad eating habits and were counting reasons for his untimely departure. They were supposed to mourn, if not, atleast should have had civility and decency to let the soul rest in peace with grace for now.

In Christianity too, it is said- God wants the good ones by his side, moreover, sufferings make a soul more pure. How can someone talk nonsense after a person’s death like this? Well-known theologian AW Tozer says- “it is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply.” Even in all religious books Gita, Kuran, Bible and Vedas and Puranas, it is mentioned that God loves them more who are capable of enduring more pain.

The endurance, strength and positivity, they exhibit amidst surmounting sufferings with incurable diseases or due to unavoidable health issues, the course they have chosen leads them to the path of goodness, even though life is short for them, remind me lines of J. Oldster from his book ‘Dead Toad Scrolls’. Oldster said that one should realize “both the brutality and the beauty in life, and apprehends that the suffering we tragically endure is partly what makes us human. What also makes us human is the ability to love” and the mannerism of showing empathy towards those who are suffering and struggling hard to survive or even if they have given up, we need to respect.

Death and disease are inevitable aspects of life and it reminded me the lines of Lancali what she says- “Being sick teaches you that reasons are just poor attempts at justifying misfortune. They give illusion of why, but why is a loud question and death is quiet”. Hope people understand the irresistibility of it and stop pestering others with insensitive comments as it adds more to their struggles and pains. It is high time to prioritize empathy and sensibility in our interactions, to learn when to speak, and when to remain silent.

Mindfulness and receptivity is absent in mass while dealing with others. Stop it! Don’t share links of posts/reels/videos when the persons suffering from diseases are straining their all energy to forget for few jiffies, their disease, the harsh reality of their lives. When they exercise mindfully to find the ikigai of their lives, with befallen doom, people need to understand being Omaiyari. We must appreciate such warriors fighting with their fates with gaman, perseverance, endurance and uncomplaining attitude rather than speaking mindless or hurting things.

It is crucial to foster a culture of empathy, where we consider the impact our words and actions may have on others. Instead of rushing to offer unsolicited advice or pass judgments, we should take the time to listen, understand, and support one another. By cultivating an environment of compassion, we can help create a society that values and respects all individuals even though they are sick, obese or disabled or on death bed.

It is also important to be mindful of the language we use and should avoid language that is hurtful, dismissive, or disrespectful, and instead choosing words that are considerate and inclusive. Overall, practicing mindful speaking with a culture of empathy involves being aware of the impact of our words, actively listening to others, and communicating with respect and compassion or if required, learn not to speak.

Next time you encounter someone who may not fit within societal health or beauty standards or is dealing with severe health issues, pause and reflect on the importance of empathy with mindful speaking. Remember that everyone has a heart and, just like you, deserves to be treated with kindness and respect. Your words may push that person more towards finale of life. Let us break free from the damaging cycle of giving unsolicited advices criticizing someone’s mental or physical condition, instead build a society that celebrates diversity and promotes inclusivity respecting individuality till the end of one’s subsistence and even after the departure.

An avid poet, writer, humanitarian, ambassador of peace and professor, Dr Shalini Yadav holds a PhD in Post-colonial Literature and M. Phil in English Language Teaching (ELT) from the University of Rajasthan. During her tenure as an educator in India, Libya and Saudi Arabia, she has participated and presented papers at conferences, chaired sessions and delivered keyspeeches. She has written scholarly research articles for various National and International refereed journals and edited volumes. She is an active member of various literary societies. She is also an efficacious member of the editorial boards of various qualitative journals and Magazines. She has authored and edited 13 books till now. She is recipient of Savitribai Phule Excellence Award-2023, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Award-2023 and Acharya Mahaveer Prasad Dwivedi Award.

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