I get asked, shockingly often, why I get “so worked up about stuff that doesn’t affect” me.
Their reasoning goes something like this: I’ll never need an abortion. I’m not gay. I currently experience no roadblocks to exercising my right to vote. I don’t carry student debt anymore. As a result, people – far too many people – can’t understand why I’m so passionate about these issues.
I sometimes wonder if I can explain to them why I care so deeply about justice for others whose lives are so different from mine; I’m not always sure I understand it on an intellectual level myself.
I have always been an empathetic being. I feel very deeply, and I have a keen sense of right and wrong. I am profoundly bothered when I hear about – or witness – injustice; *I* feel less human when someone else is degraded, abused, or disrespected.
This story goes around on facebook every once in a while, and it’s as close as I can get to how I feel about this, big picture:
An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each others hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats.
When he asked them why they had run like that when one could have had all the fruits for himself, they said, ‘UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?’ ‘UBUNTU,’ in the Xhosa culture means, ‘I am because we are.”
I guess, in a very real way, I AM affected by those things that people think don’t (or shouldn’t) matter to me. How can I enjoy access to the things I want and need when others struggle and suffer? Don’t I owe it to the Universe, to myself, and to my brothers and sisters to use the gifts I’ve been given – the privilege I enjoy – to try to lift others up, too? If not, why not? How is it that so many people are content living an attitude of “I got mine, you’re on your own”?
I close my yoga classes by saying “I am because you are; all that is good and true in me honors all that is good and true in you.” Sometimes, I choke up saying it; too few people understand that we are all connected, that we all belong to each other, and that we have the power to make one another’s lives so much easier and more joyful if we just figured that out and started behaving like loving people.
Sadly, I don’t think the people who give me crap for “caring too much” could even begin to understand.