“Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” Malorie Blackman
A couple of days ago, this headline from the Independent flashed up on my screen: The mothers whose sons died fighting for Isis in Syria reveal trauma.
If you ever need to feel intense anger within five seconds, reading the comments on posts like this one on social media is a sure-fire way to flick that switch inside of you.
I’m not sure why I decided that day that I would, knowing that they would infuriate me, read the comments. However, it’s the decision I made, stupid as it may be.
Some of the comments read:
“I am sorry but I find it hard to sympathise with the deaths of terrorists!”
“I’m sorry but every terrorist in the world uses the I was radicalised excuse it does not bring back the countless lives needlessly destroyed by them!”
“my empathy and sympathy and compassion go to the displaced families living in camps, the families of the beheaded and the countless women who were raped, tortured and brutalised, is the mother a victim undoubtedly but absolutely not in the same way!”
“dont [sic] tell me he had a mental illness?”
“no sympathy for those killers. Those mothers are often complicit with their religious extremism. Cry for the media but praise their killer sons as “martyrs” in private. Wth [sic] the mothers of the victims deserve support and to be given a voice? but they don’t get to live in the 1st world and to throw away all the privileges in the name of fundamentalist beliefs”
I’ve always been relatively tuned in when it comes to feeling other people’s emotions. In fact, as I’ve grown, I’ve realised that I am an empath. I feel things so intensely sometimes that it is as though they are happening to me. This could be something that I am spectating from afar, an account that a friend shares with me, even a television programme or film. It can keep me awake at night, a truly overwhelming thing at times. However, overall, I believe it is a gift, allowing me to consider how others are feeling and acting accordingly, showing understanding and, of course, empathy.
When it comes to radicalisation, Prevent training happens within all schools across the UK. This helps teaching staff to identify changes in students’ behaviour, which could be indicative of being groomed and possible involvement with terrorist groups, such as Isis. However, what happens when children slip through the net? What happens when people leave school, and there is no longer anyone really looking out for their welfare in this respect? Despite everyone’s best intentions and, even with intervention, people can be so determined that they will find an escape by any means possible.
Reflecting on the disappointing comments I read the other day, I was not shocked rather disappointed to see that people were being called out for showing empathy and sympathy for the mothers whose sons had died fighting for Isis. I could almost understand that attitude if the parents had been complicit in the sons’ decisions to join an extremist organisation, but in the mothers’ words, they had seen behavioural changes, unfortunately not realising what exactly was happening until it was too late.
Showing empathy does not mean that you agree with terrorism or that you do not feel for those who were killed by the terrorists. It seems that many people are of the belief that you feel for either one specific group or another, and that you cannot feel that way for both. Why not? Who wrote the rule book on empathy?
As the Malorie Blackman quote I started this article with implies, empathy is allowing yourself to consider situations from another person’s perspective. While you may disagree with someone’s actions, their opinions, their choices, thinking about their motivation for those things and their different backgrounds, for example, can be useful. In my book, feeling empathy is a good thing. Certainly, it is something I would love to see my daughters display in all situations.