I chanced upon a story that had me thinking all week about how I make others feel about their choices which may be different from mine. Allow me to share it with you;
A widower was laying flowers on his wife’s grave, when he saw a Chinese man putting a plate of rice on the grave next to his late wife’s. The man went to the Chinese man and asked, jokingly: Excuse me, sir? Do you really think that the dead will come and eat that rice?”
“Yes”, replied the Chinese man, “when yours come to smell their flowers.”
I stopped dead in my tracks: how many times have I not found what others do ludicrous and yet, doing something similar? For instance, I cannot understand why anyone would eat a rabbit. I find that rabbits are gentle and pets and think anyone who kills a rabbit to eat is…mean, to say the least!! I mean look at a rabbit – meek, mild, and won’t hurt a fly. And you take a knife to their throats?! The imagery alone; gut-wrenching for me.
Then I met a friend who is a vegan- does not eat any meat at all. We were to have lunch at a restaurant and she ordered a salad (without all the extra trimmings one is used to) and I, a chicken salad.
“Must you really eat chicken?” , she asked me, rather in an admonishing tone. “Well, I quite like the taste, plus it’s healthy”, I replied, half-nervously, conscious of the fact that eating meat in front of her might offend her sensibilities.
“Why would anyone want to harm a chicken? Such a defenceless animal that hasn’t wronged anyone, will have its head chopped off, have boiling water poured over it so as to make plucking of its feathers easier and then cooked for human consumption”. She looked horrified and I lost my appetite for my chicken salad immediately.
“I will have an egg salad then,” I announce, hoping that was a better decision.
“What?!” “You would rather eat the unborn baby of a fowl? How could you?!”, she gasped. I felt like a murderer, like I belonged in prison for such a ‘grievous act’ of eating an egg.
In that moment my mind went straight back to how disgusted I felt about people who ate rabbits; how different am I from them if I also eat chickens and (their unborn babies!) eggs? It dawned on me then, that I wasn’t being fair to rabbit eaters. Matter of fact, I was no different from them: we all are meat eaters. That I consider a rabbit (or a dog, a bird) an animal that must be kept as a pet rather than eaten, does not mean everyone else should.
We must learn to respect other people’s options and opinions that are different from ours- empathy. Empathy is trying to see the world through another person’s eye; it is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, as the expression goes. For it is only when you do have empathy that you get to know someone better, rather than judge them.
It was Alfed Adl who said , “Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adl
Another favourite quote of mine about empathy is from Rev Jesse Jackson: “never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.” Empathy teaches you to pay attention to the needs of others, whilst allowing you to learn about people from different backgrounds and cultures.
For me, the moral of that story with the Chinese man is this – respect other people’s choices. It’s the most human value one can have. We all are different but want the same thing, be it to express love or satisfaction, anger or pain, remorse or regret. Just empathise, don’t judge, because we are similarly different.
>>>The writer is a passionate educator who makes learning fun for children under 18 through co-curricular programmes. Through her charity organisation, Young Educators Foundation (YEF) in Ghana, the programmes portfolios have expanded to include literacy programmes in local languages as well as public speaking programmes for the youth.
Based on her work in education and with children, Eugenia is the recipient of many nomination and awards such as a presidential award for the contribution to education over the past decade in 2018. In 2019, she was named as one of the 74 individuals in Those who Inspire Ghana, a global programme that identifies nationals whose experiences are worth sharing. Eugenia believes that children are not the ‘future’, but rather the ‘present’ and so the need to invest in their total development. She is a regular contributor on radio and television shows as well as various public fora on this and related topics.