On Radical Empathy
Thoughts on encountering others, finding ourselves (in others), and coming back together.
by Maria Alejandra Linares Trelles
May 2nd, 2021
I’m writing these lines overwhelmed by a year filled with sickness, polarizing elections, inequality, and intolerance. As I try to process and understand what is happening around me, I force myself to practice empathy. Looking outside of myself has become a survival mechanism; so as to not collapse into my own emotions.
Outside of myself…
others than me…
othered historically based on constructed ideals and values that segregate us,
I force myself to practice empathy, while figuring out what empathy looks like ...rather, what does it not look like?
I force myself to practice empathy,
while figuring out what empathy looks like…
…rather, what does it not look like?
Empathy is not superficial
Empathy is not fleeting
Empathy is not pity
Defined as the capacity to place oneself in another’s position, empathy requires the recognition of ourselves in others. In this action, we found each other equals; in dignity and in value. Although we can’t pretend to own, inhabit or fully understand someone else’s experience, we can acknowledge their struggle (even silently), and attempt to go a little further.
Empathy is not saviour complex
In recognising others, we recognise ourselves. Our vulnerabilities and struggles present the opportunity to dismantle dynamics of power that guide us to believe we need to solve, fix, or save, rather than share, accompany and heal.
Empathy dismantles power
Empathy leads to solidarity
Sebastián Salazar Bondy wrote in 1964 that individualism had been imposed as a means for success in the struggles for social and economic ascension, thus destroying class unity and the collective struggle for rights.
While individualism places us against each other, empathy brings us back together. It builds a collective that moves beyond the homogenisation of our own bubbles to embrace our diversity, restructuring the “others” into a new found “fellowship,” and building revolutionary solidarity across borders and differences.
How do we come together if not through empathy?
Empathy is radical
Empathy is fundamental
Empathy is the root that grounds our coexistence. It’s the primordial practice of equal recognition, mutual respect, and meaningful relationality.
How else do we come together if not through radical empathy?
Illustration by Juhi Prasad Singh