Retro travel journal: on empathy and language

• ~200 words • 1 minute read

Through 340 days or so outside the country last year I met many people. They came from many different backgrounds, spoke different languages, held different jobs, observed different religions and ate different foods. When you're a visitor who can't speak the language communication becomes simplified; you become mindful of the odd idiomatic expression that might muddy the waters (See what I did there?) or how the pursuit of describing subtleties in things can have the odd effect of obfuscating truth when you're trying to clarify it.

Things are described as simply good or bad. Similarly simplified is the spectrum of human emotion and experience. All those different cultural subtleties but our basic wants, needs and feelings stay largely the same. We need shelter, food, something to do with our days. We need love, we need the feeling that we are understood, that someone can empathize. Amazingly, we all seem hard-wired to do these things for one another. Patience, forgiveness and empathy seem to be universally cherished human qualities.

We get a lot right. And sometimes we get a lot wrong. The minutia of such simple needs can weigh us down like chains over a long enough time. Sometimes we need to step back and prune the thing to remember where it started.

We're all just people who want to like each other and be liked. How do we screw this up? Why do we make this hard? Loving one another should be simple.