CONTENT WARNING: Transphobia, Brief Mentions of Eating Disorders and Death
Human beings aren’t supposed to be solitary creatures. Whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we are all inherently social animals who thrive off of interactions with one another. Sharing experiences with others makes us feel like we belong, like we’re a part of something. But that’s not all: the more that one converses with people, the more empathetic one becomes.
A 2017 article in The Conversation titled “Understanding Others’ Feelings: What Is Empathy and Why Do We Need it?” outlines three different types of empathy. The first is affective empathy, which is an intense second-hand response to an event in which you are not partaking. The second is cognitive empathy, or the logical comprehension of others’ emotional responses. The last is emotional regulation, which is the ability to control one’s own emotions relative to the situation that one is experiencing. I believe that individuals can develop all three types of empathy through participating in social relationships.
When we interact with a diverse range of people, we learn the true extent to which our lives are different. We become familiar with experiences that we’ve never had ourselves and are more apt at pointing out the emotional characteristics of said experiences. I have had friends in the past who have come out to me as transgender, and they’ve told me how it feels to be misunderstood in a cisnormative world. Even though I’m not transgender myself, I often find myself becoming saddened and frustrated with the transphobia that is so rampant in our society. I’m able to rationally understand the pain of discrimination, and when hearing the stories of other people, I’m able to control my emotions so that I don’t make the conversation ‘about me.’ Through learning about situations that I’ve never personally been in, my affective empathy, cognitive empathy, and emotional regulation have become stronger.
This is not to say that people from marginalised groups are obligated to educate others about their experiences. However, when we befriend people whose lives and identities just so happen to be different from our own, we become more aware of what it’s like to be these people. I’m not even specifically referring to people from marginalised groups here. I’ve had in-depth discussions with people whose parents have divorced, who’ve suffered from eating disorders, lived in several different countries across their lifetimes, given birth, had a parent die and many more. These are all experiences I’ve never had, and I still can’t completely comprehend the true extent of them. But because I’ve had the privilege of talking with them, I am much more open-minded and understanding than I would have been had I not met them.
I truly believe that sharing is caring. When we share our lives, our ideas, our hopes and our fears with each other, we obtain a more nuanced idea of what it means to be human. Be grateful for all the people you’ve encountered in your life, whether or not they’ve ended up becoming your best friend. I can assure you that the conversations you’ve had with others have ultimately made you a better person.