Mail Order Empathy

I knew the conversation I needed to have when I read the assignment. I put in a call and expect to have a hear back today, it might be a repeat of a conversation I have had before but I will try to be more intentional and take a small leap. Change is possible. So keeping in mind the Tuesday deadline I will think out loud about empathy and enrollment and hopefully follow up with a report.

To me, empathy is getting harder now during isolation. So much empathy happens through personal connections and relationships. Who is in your family? Who did you go to kindergarten with? Who are your colleagues? Who do you see at the grocery store (if you are lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood)? Empathy seems easy until we understand how deeply we are impacted by where we were born- income, zip code, privilege, etc- and how deeply that is ingrained in us. Partnering and having children with someone from another race, socio economic background and gender has been a catalyst for 1 million conversations (and counting) between my husband and I.  Conversations that begin at different starting points and have manifested in so many different aspects of our life. Families have set their children up for generations with kids from their same village, church, religion, etc in order to preserve the culture and avoid this sort of push and pull. 

For me, the differences are a gift. When I see the world now I also try to see it through the lens of my partner- I do not always succeed but I try and he does the same in return. We do not hide these conversations from our children in hopes that they will be able to understand that everyone has a unique perspective which can lead to vastly different interpretations of the same situation.  I remember hearing from my grandfather when I was young that he felt bad for “mixed” kids cause they don’t know who they are. I believe my kids know who they are in addition to both of their parents- they can see through multiple lenses and still be completely themselves. I remember when my kids were learning to talk, they understood that my husband’s parents did not speak English in a way that would facilitate long conversations. They learned to communicate in other ways without ever being told- hugs, kisses, love, songs, dancing. This is empathy boiled down to the gravy. 

So how does this translate into the world? If empathy can be such a long journey within a family then how can we get it on a larger scale? How can we feel empathy for those who will block the shared mission and meet them where we are at? How can we facilitate empathy and get enrollment when we are boxes on a computer screen? Fear/ distrust is so much easier than doing the work. Empathy takes time and it is draining, you have to question yourself and often admit you are wrong. 

Postscript: Both my husband and I have relatives that were mail order brides, something we ponder every once in a while. My Nanna was a mail order bride from Sicily, a seamstress who came in steerage on a boat to Ellis Island to marry her new husband from the same village. Her motto was “no trust, nobody” and she pretty much had this same scowl on her face until she died after a bad fall off a ladder at the age of 97. She was kinda scary and super strong, she would pull my ear and say something in Sicilian about the evil eye before killing an eel with her bare hands and frying it up. My husband’s grandmother (Halmuni) was also a mail order bride, 20 years younger than her husband, she died giving birth to my mother-in-law right before the Korean war. Only two out of six siblings were able to escape to the South and so my mother-in-law never knew what happened to the rest of her family and still does not know if they are alive today. I would have loved to known both of those women and talk to them about their lives, dreams, and introduce them to my girls. What would they think of our life? What were they thinking when they took their wedding pictures after just meeting their husbands that same day?

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