Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Empathy or Sympathy

There are two primary different ways to comfort people going through a crisis.

Empathy: Understanding what others are feeling because you have experienced it yourself or can put yourself in their shoes. (Source)

Sympathy: Acknowledging another person's emotional hardships and providing comfort and assurance. (Source)

As I run, eat vegan food, coach, visit Africa, and in general interact with others I have noticed the general lack of empathy in the world. There is also little sympathy. When 1400+ people are gassed to death with Sarin nerve gas and the British parliament votes to do nothing, there is a distinct lack of sympathy in the world and certainly no empathy in that situation. 

The same can be said for starving people in Africa which we do not give money, in any way, shape or form, to help. There is no empathy and little sympathy. In the same way people don't really understand my running because just like starving or being gassed, they have never averaged 10 miles a day for six months.

Being vegan is a bit of a cry of empathy to those food insecure. In other words eating rice and beans helps me understand, empathize, with poor Africans who can't afford to eat meat. After trips to other countries I often feel the need to make a change, to double down on what I am good at because I have the resources to be even better at it.

There are many thing I will never be able to empathize with. For example, I grew up very privileged. I was never beaten. I never had to carry water for the family. I always had shoes. We always had food even if it was processed and bleached or the meat was too chewy to recognize. My problems have certainly been first world problems. In the face of the challenges in Africa and Asia my own problems are too insignificant to mention.

I often write or say, what is possible? I think to some extent thinking outside the box, or along the edges of the box, one must sometimes take away the floor of the box as well as the ceiling. Limits aren't just up and up, but beneath us too. To illustrate, take running a fast marathon and being vegan. A fast marathon is taking away the ceiling of the box, a higher goal. On the other hand being vegan is like taking the floor out of the box. The idea of ideal nutrition has to be completely redefined for an Iowa resident. Yet working in concert, taking the floor out seems to be working towards raising the ceiling. So I am doing this vegan thing to run faster, but it also helps me relate to the poor of the world. For better or for worse, it also takes me at least one step farther away from the standard American diet. So even fewer people can empathize with my situation.

I love commitment. Commitment allows me to say, "yes, I gave it everything I was willing to give." Life is short and the sacrifices we have the opportunity to make seem enormous at the time but often are insignificant compared to accomplishing our goals. What if I run a 2:17 at Chicago? That's just crazy I'm not in that kind of shape! What if I ran a 2:21:XX at Chicago? Would it have been worth it to be vegan for ten weeks? Absolutely. I am beginning to dream of times I have not had dreams of in some time. What if I ran under 2:20?

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