Tag Archives: empathy

Empathetic for Life

6/28/18

This is it, my very last blog post. These blog posts have been a way for me to force myself to reflect and share some of the things I have learned through this experience. An important aspect of the last five weeks is that it does not end here. It does not end when our film is ready to be shared. This experience has ignited in me a newfound passion and anger for the violation of human rights that I witnessed. It is very easy to feel helpless in a monumental situation such as a refugee crisis. What can I really do? I can donate money, I can lobby, I can spread the word. But there is something infuriating that there is little I can do for the people that I met, shook hands with and listened to. When I think about this, I try to be optimistic. I try and remind myself that there are things I learned that I will take with me the rest of my life. That is something I can do. Take this experience with me wherever I go, and make sure to share it.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is the difference between sympathy and empathy. Before leaving for Uganda, I thought that I knew the difference. Definition wise, I did. Feeling wise, I did not. It is easy for Americans to view conflict crises and issues of poverty and hunger in less-developed countries as “too bad”, a statistic or even “just the way it is”. It feels so far away and if it is not directly affecting someone then it is not a priority. However, someone may feel heartbroken watching a documentary or hearing statistics of deaths in a year. This is what we know as sympathy. Feeling bad for someone. Having a common feeling but still feeling pity for someone. I won’t lie, I had sympathy for South Sudanese refugees before I left for Uganda. Once I got there I realized that I did not have to put up a barrier of “me” and “them” and feel bad for them. Yes, these humans have gone through hardships that I could never even imagine. But once I broke down this barrier and opened up my heart to them, that was when the point of this project made the most sense. I was allowing myself to be empathetic and really put myself in the shoes of these men, women and children. I was able to learn historical context about the different conflicts and I was able to ask questions about it. I was able to hear firsthand accounts of humans who were forced to become refugees. I was able to see the lifestyles for these refugees. I was able to see the amount of people in Uganda who fight and advocate for humans, in general. I was able to see the importance of family for Ugandans and South Sudanese, alike. I was able to see the importance of the different meanings of “church” for the refugees. All of these things, I am able to put myself in the shoes of. It is not a foreign land over in Uganda. These are men, women and children, just like me. And when there is empathy between the two sides, I believe this is a closer step to peace. It may take a while, and it won’t be easy, but there needs to stop being a “me” and a “them”. I will advocate for this as long as I have a voice.

I am excited that we will have a tangible account of our experience. I am nervously awaiting to share our film and everything we saw. I know the story will do the communities that we visited in Uganda justice. I will share, share and overshare. I have been “ruined” for life and who knows the difference that could make.  Overall, I am thankful that I have seen what I have. I can better articulate some of the biggest institutional and tribal struggles that have hit Eastern Africa. That is something I never thought I would be able to say. Thank you, webale nyo, to everyone that made this possible. Endless love to each of you.

The last sunset I saw in Uganda

 

Enough with the Sneering

My name is Liz(zy) – your choice. My mom cannot stand the name Liz (which is odd since she named me), so I give the option as a courtesy for those of you who also have a particular dislike for the name. I am from Stilwell, Kansas. I attend Creighton University and am majoring in Medical Anthropology with minors in Spanish, Theology, and Journalism. Despite not lending itself to a tidy pre-professional track, I study such a hodge-podge hoping to better understand our shared human condition.

It seems that our mutual acquaintance is backpack photojournalism. I can only guess what has brought you here:

  1. Concern: you are a loved one of a fellow participant trying to gauge the character of the people with whom he/she will be traveling
  2. Curiosity: you are a prospective participant deciding if this program is for you
  3. Obligation: you are a member of my immediate family, and reading this blog feels like a requirement (and perhaps burden) after my persistent badgering

With more certainty than a guess, I can tell you what brought me here. Between finishing final exams and starting boot camp, I read Farther Away by Jonathan Franzen and A Nun on the Bus by Sister Simone Campbell. I draw from both to explain.

“When you stay in your room and rage or sneer or shrug your shoulders, as I did for many years, the world and its problems are impossibly daunting. But when you go out and put yourself in real relation to people, or just real animals, there’s a very real danger that you might end up loving some of them. And who knows what might happen to you then?” (Franzen 2012, 14)

After reading this, I said to myself, “that’s it – enough with the sneering, Liz.” This response was reassurance that my intuition in enrolling in this program was not just a spontaneous oversight. Franzen suggests we personalize the world’s problems by putting ourselves in real relation to people. “A bottomless empathy” and “the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real are you are” (Franzen 2012, 9) mark such a relation. This kind of relation and its resulting love might not be entirely possible given our time constraints in Uganda but, nevertheless, will be pursued. I live for these real conversations with people in these real relations as sacred, shared spaces of creation. A creation that can, and hopefully will, “open our hearts to our better selves” (Campbell 2014).