Empathy, writing, and data, oh my


My superpower is my ability to empathize with those around me. Although many of my colleagues experience sympathy, empathy is defined as the actual understanding and sharing of another person’s feelings (Google Dictionary). Sympathy, on the other hand, is defined as the feeling of pity or sorrow for someone else’s misfortune (Google Dictionary).

As a professional my ability to empathize allows me to succeed in all manner of interpersonal situations. For example when a customer calls ranting and raving, although I may be upset by what they are saying, I understand that in the broader picture they are hurting. While working in customer service at Lowe’s, I saw that my ability to rationalize the customer’s fury often diffused the situation.


Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Jack Moreh

I am by nature a quiet person, which some people take as an invitation to walk all over me. What they don’t often anticipate is that my strength is in my silence. When people are allowed to express their frustration to a receptive ear, they are also more likely to relax when they see the situation being remedied.

The professional workforce depends on people who can communicate effectively and interpret the customers’ desires into action. My other superpower is my ability to incorporate the hard skills I’ve learned from both the political science department and the journalism department. Journalism taught me about competent communication while political science taught me to look for patterns within the world around me.

Although the classes I have taken are wildly different, the skills afforded to me by these classes are irreplaceable. For example, in political science I’ve learned about data interpretation but in journalism I’ve learned how to clearly and concisely communicate the results of my data in a way that makes sense to the general populace and not just other political scientists. Essentially each skillset builds on the other’s, giving me the opportunity to move between the world of academia and the real world with little issue.

In short I am marketable because of both my soft skills and my hard skills. My ability to interpret data and write with clarity connects me to the world of academia, but my ability to empathize with those around me grounds me in the reality. Lacking either skill, I would be far less marketable.


Social media: the new public stockade


I know that I’ve made my opinions on social media clear. I know that I haven’t always given it its due on this blog, but a large part of the reason I hate social media stems from public shaming. In Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk she compares the Internet to a public stockade, and she’s right. On the surface social media is a brilliant way to remain connected and for every horror story there are three or four good stories. Unfortunately, those good stories never seem to outshine the lack of compassion and inhumanity of cyber-bullying.

Maybe its because I’ve been told that some of my family members are going to hell, maybe its because I’ve been called the “damn liberal/hippy,” or maybe its because I have a bleeding heart but when I look at social media platforms all I see is a more accessible way to hurt people. I don’t think I was ever bullied, people said and did some hurtful things and I moved on with no lasting effects. But with social media the cruelty doesn’t end after school, it doesn’t end at night; it’s a steady stream of hatred that pours into every hour of every day until a new victim is found.

Megaphone Characters Show Attention Explaining Announce And Bull

Photo courtesy of freerangestock.com and Stuart Miles

While I am less inclined to sympathize with Justine Sacco than I am with John Higgins, Lewinsky and Michelle Ferrier, her stupidity shouldn’t warrant threats on her life. What she tweeted was senseless, racist, and cruel to those suffering with HIV and AIDS and I make no pretense to defend her. But was that tweet worth the total destruction of her life? Some might argue yes, others no. I stand somewhere in the middle. As a P.R. executive she should have known better and I do think firing her was appropriate but I’m reticent to say she deserved to have her life gobbled up by salacious magazines looking for a story.

Similarly Lewinsky, Ferrier and Higgins didn’t deserve to have their lives upended by the Internet’s insatiable need for malice. Humiliation and dehumanization are never the answer.

Imagine for a minute, if instead of making people regret their error by making them relive it, we saw fit to explain why what they did was hurtful. We teach children empathy for this reason, why can’t we use it to teach adults?

As mentioned earlier I avoid social media – it scares me. I’ve watched friends obsess over the latest Instagram post by Kim Kardashian and wondered if people even see her as human. What if we began to see everyone as human, as more than just a screen name? Would we change the way we talk to each other or even about each other? Or have we become so utterly desensitized to the idea of empathy that we now lack the ability to communicate with one another in more than just moral absolutes.

I don’t have the answers and I certainly can’t say I’ve never said a mean thing. I’ve had days where half the things that came out of my mouth were unkind. I just want to know why we stopped treating each other as fallible people and began expecting perfection.