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Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues

An experience of understanding empathy.

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So often I find many of my friends and family unwell or sick. So often I say ‘I hope you get better’. Yet do I really mean this? Well obviously the answer is yes. The problem is by contradiction that because I am never unwell myself I struggle to empathise with someone’s experience in being unwell.

Whilst I do wish people to get better who are unwell, it is my lack of knowing how hard this feels that is difficult to come to terms with. So while I admit there is a lack of genuine empathy on my part to understand what a friend or family member is going through, I have realized this could be more of a problem for wider society.

Up until last year I had no conception of what it meant to struggle financially, I have never lived in a mansion but I have had the luxury of being raised in a Middle class area albeit within a larger Working class community.

Money has never been an easily disposable tool for me, yet I have always had the comfort of not worrying where the next meal will come from or how I will afford to get to work. As I got older the money increased as I was working regularly and money did at one point become this easily disposable piece of paper of which I could pursue most desires.

2014 would be a year where I would not only struggle financially but also a year where I would develop empathy for those who are less well off. After taking a job in a rather ‘bizarre’ move’ as many of my friends and family said at the time, I would subsequently find myself out of work from this job, albeit being told from the employers that were ‘letting me go’ that I would do well working my way up in my previous job but this particular job is ‘not for you’. ‘Never mind’ I said to myself, I will be back in work in under a month. If only.

In the weeks and months that followed I would apply for job after job and would get nowhere, you can read my experiences of this here. So without going in to detail as to why I was struggling to find alternative work, I would like to demonstrate to you the change in mindset about both of how I saw the world and also how people viewed me.

A very difficult number of trips to the Jobseekers center would follow week after week, I was trying my best to get back to work, only to be told by people who were content in their jobs that I wasn’t ‘trying hard enough’. The absolute embarrassment of getting on a bus to go to a place where a big bright green sign on a building was facing me was and remains one of the most difficult times of my life.

Firstly people’s perceptions of me were that I was a ‘loser’, ‘a waste of space’, ‘unworthy of life’ in extreme cases. I know this because these very perceptions were how I had previously viewed people who were signing on at the Job Centre. I was finally this very ‘waste of space’ that I had viewed so many other people who were on Jobseekers allowance prior to myself joining them.

So surly if this was my belief prior to having never being engaged with this process, then surly other people who have never had the experience of going through this difficult time would feel same about people out of work.

I knew people’s perceptions of people who were out of work prior to this anyway ‘they choose to live like it’, ‘wasters’, ‘losers’, ‘dossers’. These were all but a few of the many statements I heard prior to my engagement with the Job seeking process. I would go as far to say I simply could not believe that you could be out of work for longer than a month as I suspect those even today in many jobs believe. This on reflection was both a reckless view on my part and a rather Social Darwinist ‘survival of the fittest’ view.

I look back at the way I saw people who were struggling and realized it was an unfair view. Yet consolation for myself was that I was not alone in thinking like this. I would argue that the vast majority of people who have never experienced being out of work would still share this view.

Financial hardships can still affect people who are in work, but none so much to the extent that going through the job seeking process does, it is both a mentally and financially challenging situation to find yourself in, to this day I wouldn’t wish it on anyone except the very people who had put me in this situation.

I also learned why we view people in the terms of ‘scratters’, ‘wasters’, losers’ and all the other horrible vocabulary we use in this situation. When you as I did first begin the job seeking process you have much hope that you will be in work and soon enough a job will appear, you send countless job applications off and with this you believe will definitely be in work.

You begin taking your job appointment card to the job center and begin giving your maximum effort to finding a job, you initially tolerate people’s ignorance of your circumstance, and your thought process prevails long enough to imagine a time in the not too distant future when this will be just one bad memory form the past.

Yet week in, week out, you begin to lose all sense of hope and purpose, that effort you were making at the beginning with your appointment card and filling in the rather patronizing ‘what I will do to look for work’, ‘what happened at my interview’, suddenly becomes this fruitless effort where no reward is offered for the effort you are making to look for work bare the lacklustre £72.50 a week and a free bus pass to get you to work.

In such a desperate situation many would argue that you just have to ‘weather the storm’ and get yourself out of this mess. Yet it is other people’s perceptions of you that you have come to this position of your own choosing and that you are deserving of your position for it is you who made a mistake in your life and for it is you who shall be punished.

The lowest status afforded to anybody in society is undoubtedly someone who is out of work. The unforgiving, uncompromising view of strangers towards you is that you are deserved of your status and no more value will be added to you as a person until you change that perception until you change that for yourself.

Your engagement with society is severely limited due to the lack of funds you have at your disposal. Everything you took for granted suddenly becomes a lovely fantasy that you were once part of. Any effort you do make is knocked backed down by the very people who should understand your situation (the DWP).

Very few people want to know when you find yourself in this situation, the person selling the Big Issue on the street is ignored, and ‘for they deserve to be in that position’ we think to ourselves. The person on the street saying ‘spare change please’ gets ignored for they too are a waste of time after all ‘they choose to live like it’ we think to ourselves.

I remember one occasion prior to my own troubles and experience in job hunting, where I as did many others exited a building after a concert, late at night, to be confronted by a Big Issue seller who was asking if we would buy one. I sincerely regret I, like many other’s refused to even engage the man in conversation.

After we all walked away, something that I will remember for the rest of my life happened. He yelled ‘There’s no need to ignore me, I am a human being after all!’

How true he was and how I hope this man’s fortunes have since changed. Yet that was a demonstration whereby I suspect even had none of us bought a Big Issue off him, he would have been delighted that we engaged him in conversation. For it was the isolation, devoid of most human contact he was struggling with.

In 2016 nearly a year after finding myself out of work I find myself back in a job that I have never been more grateful to be at, and I have undoubtedly proved this with my new sense of importance for being in work and my best performances have come at the cost of discovering what it feels like to be out of work.

Being out of work is not just difficult because of the financial cost, it is difficult because of people’s wrong, yet understandable perceptions of what it mean’s and feels like to be out of work. Our job must be to emphasise with these people who while we hope will never share their position, we must understand how we would feel in that position. I fear until we do this, we will continually view such people through snobbish lenses and not give them the time or help they need in a world where a lack of empathy is afforded.

11061252_816511518396375_5655807210370315407_n                                                         Oliver Wilson, (2016)

One comment on “An experience of understanding empathy.

  1. Pingback: What it feels like to hit depression. | Consensus44

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This entry was posted on January 25, 2016 by in Philosophy.
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