Empathy for All

I consider myself incredibly lucky to work in such an interesting field. Psychology has always fascinated me, but actually working with kids and families in my community has broadened my horizons even more than I could have imagined back when I was still in school. Given that I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life, it seems strange to me that I would have such a good time working is social services. However, I’ve learned to be more fascinated than fearful of people. Even so, I also believe that I am on the autistic spectrum which I feel gives me an interesting perspective on interpersonal matters. I have always been able to set aside my emotions around a subject or situation fairly easily and act based on logic and facts rather than my feelings.

I’ve learned throughout my life though, that this analytical character of mine can often be seen as cold and calculating by those around me. Many times I have offered up an opinion about something that seems perfectly logical to me, but has been terribly shocking and offensive to others. For instance, a recent conversation I’ve had with a friend at work sticks out to me. We were discussing the idea of legalizing all drugs and illicit substances. We both agreed that at face value, this seems like a shocking and unethical idea. I think most people have a gut reaction to this proposal that causes them to condemn it right away. However, I have read the research on this idea from countries where similar policies have been implemented. It came as a surprise to me, but legalizing these substances actually has the opposite effect than you would expect. Rather than more people abusing drugs and overdosing, there are less instances of this behavior. This is because people are more easily able to reach out for help. There is less of a stigma surrounding drug abuse. People that use are also able to do so more safely than they are when it’s illegal, which results in less instances of overdose and infection.

After discovering this data, I was fully on board with legalizing all drugs. Even though my emotional reaction to the idea remained unchanged. It still felt like a bad idea, but I was confident in the science enough to overlook my personal biases. However, when I shared this information with my coworker, he refused to change his position on the matter. I asked him, “So you’re still against it even if it results in less drug abuse?” This seemed so interesting to me. That even highly intelligent people will often side with their emotions rather than the facts.

A similar discussion came up the other day at a meeting with people we work with on cases of child abuse. We began discussing the idea of virtual child pornography or child sex dolls. Of course the idea is repulsive. Everyone’s initial reaction is of disgust and condemnation. Yet, I remain convinced that if there is data that shows these things lessen the likelihood that actual children will be abused, then I think they should be allowed. I’m not aware that there is any such data. It could very well be the exact opposite. But even in this hypothetical situation, no one else would agree that this should ever be legal. Even if it stops children from being abused. Once again, I was left feeling amazed at the irrationality of these smart individuals.

I am careful to watch what I say, lest I upset anyone, but a lot of the time, I don’t find it as easy to condemn the alleged perpetrators as I feel I should. Obviously child abuse of any kind is inexcusable and all measures must be taken to protect children from these offenders. However, this doesn’t make me incapable of still feeling sorry for everyone involved. After all, a lot of pedophiles were once the innocent victims. This obviously doesn’t justify their crimes, but it does somewhat explain them. We are unable to just cast these people out of society. The fact remains that putting them in prison for ten years doesn’t solve the problem. They are very likely to go on offending as soon as they are released. The science has shown that as upsetting as it is, pedophilia is a sexual orientation. It is something that cannot be changed. These people must learn how to control these urges and understand that although they cannot control their thoughts, they are able to control their actions. If they are considered monsters by society for their thoughts alone, why wouldn’t they give in to their urges? There needs to be an effort to rehabilitate these people, not just punish them.

Often we will interview a child because they have been abusing other children. We won’t ask them about what they’ve done, rather we try to ascertain whether or not something has happened to them that is causing them to act out this abuse on others. I think it’s very interesting that when a child hurts another child, we still feel empathy and compassion for both of them. It makes me wonder at what point we draw the line. When does a troubled child become an unforgivable adult? Does the limit of our compassion end at eighteen? Why do we make that distinction?

I find it hard to make sense of this divide, even though I do feel it viscerally within myself. It is much easier to vilify an adult than a child for the same crime. At the same time it seems illogical to arbitrarily make a decision that someone isn’t culpable at 16 but they are at 18. How exactly were they expected to “fix themselves” now that they are legally an adult? This atmosphere of shame and condemnation only makes it harder for the “undesirables” in society to seek help. Apparently in the U.S. you may be reported to the authorities for even mentioning you feel sexually attracted to minors to your therapist, even if you’ve never acted on those urges.

At the end of the day, despite our feelings on these difficult matters, we need to act and make decisions in a way that results in the best outcomes for society as a whole. Sometimes it may end up to be something that at face value seems counterintuitive. But we’ve got to learn to look past our emotional impulses and trust the data. I certainly don’t know all the answers to these very challenging questions. I just hope that we can be objective and open as we continue to search for those answers.

Photo by Alex Green on Pexels.com

Asking the Wrong Questions

As a vegan, I am endlessly asked questions about my lifestyle. Even though I find them aggravating and tedious to answer over and over again, I always try to stay friendly and informative. After all, while I’ve answered these questions a million times, it may be the first time the person I’m talking to has had the chance to ask anyone.

For example, a coworker asked me roughly, “Isn’t it difficult to be vegan?” Frankly, the answer is no. It might be somewhat challenging to adjust to at first, as any lifestyle change would be. But after a few months it is ridiculously easy. It’s not even something I have to think about. Especially now when there are so very many vegan options available. Even without those “fake” meats and replacement foods, you simply learn about all the naturally vegan dishes other cultures have been enjoying without even thinking to label them “vegan.” It’s just food. People seem to forget that the majority of everyone’s diet, vegan or not, should be mainly fruits, grains, and vegetables anyway.

After getting flustered and anxiously trying to express all of this in a clear concise way, it dawned on my just how irrelevant this question and it’s answer really are. Whether the answer is yes or no ultimately does not matter. The right question is whether or not it’s worth it. No one ever asks that.

I think from now on I am going to start redirecting those who question me toward the more important questions rather than directly answering the ones they ask. Even if veganism was hard, I’d still choose to be vegan. I mean, like I said, it was hard in the beginning and I wasn’t aware back then that it’d get easier. Whether or not it’d be easy had no bearing on my decision to change my life. I changed because it was the right thing to do. It was the only way for me to live in accordance with my morals and core beliefs. It was the only peaceful, compassionate path forward.

How ludicrous it seems to imagine justifying the continued abuse and slaughter of animals because it’s just easier that way. Human beings are always so focused on themselves. It is hard for most non-vegans to wrap their heads around the idea that I would happily “inconvenience” myself, completely change myself and my way of life, in order to save the life of another or even just relieve some their suffering. That’s an easy choice. I’d be vegan even if it only helped a single animal.

Some people even falsely assert, “Those animals are already dead. It won’t change anything whether I order a burger or not.” This also baffles me. Besides being disingenuous (most people understand supply and demand), it simply doesn’t matter if it truly changes the world or not. For instance, just because you don’t abuse children, doesn’t make child abuse disappear. Does that make it okay for me to abuse a child? Even if that particular child will be abused by someone else anyway? Of course not! There are many horrors that exist in our society and in our world. That does not make those horrors acceptable or morally okay.

I could go on to dissect all of the common questions we vegans know so well. In the end, we get so distracted by answering the question, trying to defend our beliefs, making veganism look appealing, and dispelling misconceptions, that we don’t even realize how irrelevant the question and it’s answer really are. In the future I am going to try my hardest to remember this when asked these questions. Rather than rattling off facts and figures that, let’s be honest, are pretty much ignored, I am going to ask my own questions in return.

I hope by doing this, I’ll actually be able to spark some genuine contemplation on the topic. I know my past responses haven’t been making the impact I have hoped. Besides, it’ll be much more interesting for me than repeating the same facts, which fall on deaf ears, again and again.

I’ve never been able to understand why knowing that animals suffer and die isn’t enough for people to be inspired to end that, to stop participating in such cruelty, such violence. It’s really that simple. Suffering, violence, and death are awful. Producing meat and dairy requires violence, suffering, and death. We do not need to consume these things to live or be healthy. That should be all anyone needs to know. That’s all that truly matters.

Parental Rights

I have always been amazed at the disconnect between the rights of children and the rights of parents. I don’t understand why it is a controversial, inflammatory idea that there should be some type of regulations when it comes to who can have children. I realize that creating and implementing those types of laws would be highly complicated and sensitive, but I don’t understand why it is so taboo to even suggest.

I work with children every day. I see the ways they suffer from having incompetent, uncaring parents. Why is a person’s right to have a biological child more important than a potential child’s right to safety, security, and stability? I specifically say biological child because we all know the rigorous process someone has to go through to be approved for adoption. Adopting a dog or a cat requires more of a person than having a baby. It would make me laugh if it wasn’t so damn sad.

I will never understand why anyone can create a child they are incapable of properly caring for and protecting as “their right”, while adopting a child that already exists and is in need of a parent is something that you must prove yourself to be exceptional in order to do. It is absolutely ludicrous. I think the same standards should apply whether the child has your DNA or not. Either anyone can have a child, or you have to meet certain criteria.

Obviously I believe in implementing the latter, but it would at least show consistency if they decided to allow anyone to adopt a child that expressed the desire to. Hell, throw some into the care of random couples “by accident.” The whole thing seems terribly unjust to me. And the more I work with the children in my community the stronger I feel about it.

Sadly I see how outraged and horrified people become when restricting parenthood is even mentioned. So I know a serious discussion about it will never even be had. For the life of me I don’t understand why my brain seems to process things so much differently than other people. The majority of the human population just seems totally illogical and irrational. Making decisions and policies based on blind emotion. I’m just exhausted by it all at this point. Most days I just try not to work myself up by thinking about it.