A lesson on empathy

“I need a table lamp”, said Ryan. I asked him why he would need a table lamp. “To study better”, he said. That must have come from some scene in a movie or an advertisement, I suppose. You know, the kids with a study table filled with books, a table lamp, a coffee mug and all that. I told him that he didn’t need one now and the light present was enough.

So he put his cuteness mode on with a begging face and I was beginning to go defenseless. Then I decided to put my good-father hat on: “You know, in my childhood, there was no electricity in the house till the quarterly exams of 10th standard. I studied under the light of a kerosene lamp at night”. As I spoke, I realized that I haven’t showed him a kerosene lamp yet. “In this house?”, he asked, glancing at the switch boards. “No, in the house that was in place. Where I and your uncles and aunties grew up”. “Where was grandpa then? Was he at work?”, he asked. I didn’t quite get that part. What did that have to do with electricity? “Yes, he was”, I said. Ryan went silent for a moment and then asked me with an empathizing face: “so you couldn’t fix the electricity because grandpa was at work?”.

So basically, he thought that it was a temporary electricity outage that couldn’t be fixed because my father was at work. This short conversation with my son made me realize that people can empathize with stories, but they would never completely understand how it is like, unless they experience it themselves. And that is not a ‘problem’ but a fact. And that is not just about one generation. Every generation that is gone, present and to come would be the same in this case. But the least we could do is to empathize.