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Political leadership today lacks a critical element — empathy

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American senator Bill Bullard once said: “The highest form of knowledge is empathy”. In the past year, as the entire world has grappled with the deadly Covid-19 pandemic, this quote has proved to be true time and again. Our families, businesses, and lives have been hit hard, for now, the only thing that binds us is the capacity to possess and display empathy, whereby we shackle our egos and try to feel what someone else has been feeling.

Empathy, however, is a rare commodity today. ‘Pity’ is much more common. When we see someone less fortunate than ourselves, we immediately feel pity. Unfortunately, this feeling of pity is what we often observe in most political leaders. Most are content in working for votes, popularity, and even those who are genuinely motivated to work for the less privileged, tend to channel their pity towards them.

The difference is that with pity, one is able to solve the immediate problem, however, once this feeling passes, the helping hand disappears. On the other hand, having empathy will enable someone to understand the crux of others’ difficulties and assist in finding a long-term solution.

Also Read: Covid-19 is our chance to teach kids empathy just like we train them in Maths and Science

Empathy is a necessity

Empathy must be a prerequisite in politics, it shouldn’t merely be a preferable quality or be confused with pity. The blame of having less empathy cannot rest solely on the shoulders of the political leaders. The public (we) also tend to idealise the leader who can provide immediate solutions, however unsustainable it may be in the longer run. You see, pity is more attractive and sells better.

There is a lack of genuine empathy in the political sphere. Here, we must harken back to the old days, where the leader was able to connect with the common man, due to their empathy and compassion to solve the problems of the common folk as if it were their own. Such connection is established at a deeper level, still, there are a few leaders who keep alive the hope and trust of the masses.

Empathy is not merely a tool or a gimmick for the political leaders to exploit or to win elections. It is an essential link that can help the leaders realise what policies and laws are most desired by the public. A policymaker who learns to utilise empathy, will not only benefit people and the nation but can also shape the future.

It need not be limited to national politics, as a nation, we should endeavor to channelise empathy at an international level. By doing so, we can understand the demands and needs at a global level and achieve a higher level of cooperation and peace. In essence, empathy would prevent discrimination, biases, and perpetuation of stereotypes against other groups (ethnic, religious, gender, and so on).

Also Read: India’s Covid response knee-jerk, circumstances demand love & compassion for the marginalised

Changes due to the pandemic

In the present grim scenario, where we are enveloped by the shadows cast by this prolonged pandemic, we can observe empathy all around us. We must continue the link and become the helping hands for others, it will serve as a jolt to the policymakers who would awaken to find an empathetic nation ready to understand, assist and serve one another. Indeed, it must be noted, how help has been provided to those who need it now (due to the pandemic) from the unlikeliest of sources. It is high time our leaders realise this and emulate it.

It’s easy to dismiss others entirely without understanding their point of view, their feelings, or what they have been through. There is a greater purpose and beauty in empathising.

“Empathy is
Seeing with the eyes of another,
Listening with the ears of another,
& feeling with the heart of another.”

Yuvraj Singh is a student at Delhi University. Views are personal.


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