A small step for a big change: Rational compassion

Big sister comforts and embraces her little brother to alleviate fears and anxieties

Human nature is a concept that has been debated for thousands of years by philosophers,  and more recently by psychologists, a wide range of scientists, but also by common people. This concept is essential to comprehending our own nature and our purpose on Earth. While there is no common definition or shared understanding of human nature, I believe that empathy is a prevalent characteristic of human beings. Whereas human nature differs substantially from individual to individual and is understood and manifests itself distinctly across countries, cultures and communities, oftentimes there is this shared feature of humans: empathy. We can connect that to the fact that across cultures and borders people seem to want similar things, such as health and happiness, in whichever way they might manifest themselves for the individual. The desire to be healthy might be associated with what the Epicureans suggested of human nature: that it is quintessential to our nature to avoid pain and to seek pleasure. Thus, when witnessing suffering in any perceivable way, in ourselves or others, our instinct is to avoid or to remove the cause of pain. That is a natural reaction because our first response to human suffering is feeling emotionally touched and feeling empathy.

The next thing we could do is to act on the feeling of empathy in a rational way. That would bring us exactly to rational compassion, a concept supported and spread by Paul Bloom through his book “Against Empathy: The case for rational compassion”. We could easily employ our rationality to act on our feelings of empathy if we believe ourselves to be rational beings, as Aristotle claimed. How can we use rational compassion in our societies? How can we apply it to make countries a bit better for their inhabitants? For instance, as Paul Bloom suggested, we could commit to analyzing which charities and NGOs are the most efficient worldwide and start by donating a certain monthly amount to these organizations.

More specifically, how can we use rational compassion in my own country, Romania? First of all, the most useful thing would be for each of us to change the perception we have of animals and people in need of support, money or treatment by educating ourselves and by reading more about manners of contribution to those in need. I believe that in Romania there is a high need of workshops and seminars conducted throughout schools and universities that could lead to future generations understanding that less is more. Give a bit of what you have, renounce some of your material possessions and you can help others lead a better live! What is more, there is a dire need for pupils, students and other categories of people to get involved with charities and NGOs, to learn more about these organizations and to start volunteering. The more direct contact with and the more awareness of societal issues we have, the more we can develop the feeling of empathy and act on it afterwards. I also believe that certain sensitive issues that people misconceive should be publicly discussed in educational environments. Therefore, universities in Romania should learn from internationally famous universities that have a variety of societies for like-minded people. These associations provide students with an adequate space to socialize, to generate revolutionary ideas and to create innovative projects. The student societies we usually lack in Romania and we definitely need are: LGBT and feminist groups, animal rescue and animal protection groups, environmental groups. and minorities’ rights groups. Another thing to do is to use crowdfunding and other social platforms to raise awareness of those in need. For example,  someone can create a webpage dedicated to marginalized, peripheral villages inhabited by Roma people, who are in need of better housing conditions, jobs, education for children, a stable source of electricity, running drinkable water and so on. A considerably numerous group of empathy-led people could take everything in their own hands and alternately go to the village to teach the children who do not have access to school.They could also gather second-hand things and donate them to the people in the village and make a campaign to raise money in order to improve the living conditions of the village inhabitants. Last, but not least, a pressure group can be formed to force the local authorities to deal with the electricity and water problems. This is just one possible example, but there are hundreds, if not thousands of such cases in Romania, from poor children, orphans, lonely and sick elders, abandoned animals to mistreated wildlife and so on. I want to believe that we can act on our empathy and transform it into rational compassion for the better of the country. But what Romania needs most is ‘acting’ and people who would be willing to do something. Unfortunately, most people sit and discuss the corruption and the miserable state of the country. Stop complaining, start doing Romania! Life is not going to give you lemons for your lemonade, you have to grab them for yourselves!

Christmas is coming. Still unemployed!

       24067871_1503562029678810_1175688118924004832_n

23915640_1503571966344483_2912765515049930262_n

 

Random thoughts have been going through my head for a month already. So here it goes. Finally I have the time and courage to write down what has been bothering me. I gave up my three or four part-time jobs as an English teacher and my Chinese language course will end soon. That means my visa will expire soon…how soon? The end of January…and I’ve got nothing sorted out….I am stressed, I might be kicked out of this country and I am not even sure I have enough money to buy a plane ticket to go back to my home country. I am basically stranded. And my home is in Shanghai already. I feel the Christmas spirit here, my lovely dog is here with me…what am I gonna do with him if I have to leave? He is my responsability and I love him so much. I could leave him with my boyfriend, but I would miss him too much.

Meanwhile, I am constantly looking for jobs in my domain (anthropology > NGO, social entrepreneurs’ companies,  cultural advisor, exchange semester coordinator or study advisor…abstract and idealistic type of jobs).  Yeah, this is what stimulates my imagination and my dream is to get involved in projects that could alleviate poverty, help discriminated people, come up with ideas and ways to help migrants integrate better and receive real chances to start over in their new countries. To be honest, ever since I was a child empathy was one of my biggest qualities. I remember seeing beggars, wounded animals or poor children and starting to cry. My whole day became miserable and I didn’t care about my happy circumstances anymore. Well, I don’t know if you can classify empathy as a quality. Sometimes it makes life impossibly hard. I am way too sensitive and I sometimes end up crying in a corner by how fucked up the world is and by how insensitive and selfish people are. I am one of those people who cannot imagine living life only for herself. I can’t die thinking that all I have done during my short, meaningless life was to build a future only for myself and my family. So no, I want to help the world, thus I want to become a social activist. Unfortunately, so do many other people…millions of other people…why? because nowadays it is trendy to do that…it is fashionable…basically it goes like this…some people think the world is divided into the following categories:

  •  Rich individuals, big corporations, corrupt politicians > aka business minded, mainly interested in money people
  • The other side > the good guys, the ‘do good’, save the world, talk big and put some positive shit on your CV

But out there people are more than that, more than 2 narrow categories. Black, white and grey zones mingle. What frustrates me the most are people who are nowadays social activists or work in domains that are obviously related to anthropology and sociology, but have nothing to do with these areas. They use language and terms that are unrelated to social and cultural issues and even augment problems by spreading wrong messages and using general terms (such as: let’s educate people > how abstract is that? ). And the main problem with this is that they have no theoretical knowledge and no background in how to deal with different communities. All the data they have on certain communities comes from superficial dialogues they had with a few individuals. There is no ethnography involved, no significant sample group, no extended period of time interviewing and participating in the community’ s life. Hence, everything is just completely biased and presented from the perspective of the person who wants to help. However, this help can sometimes do more wrong than good for certain communities if we are not analytical enough. That also involves a lot of self-criticism and challenging yourself at every step. So here’s my issue…do some people want to help because they would like to see problems solved? Are they really in it to genuinely offer other people chances to improve their lives? Or do they want to help because it is trendy and weighs a lot on their resume? I think there are a lot of posers out there who occupy jobs that I might be suitable for.

And here’s the paradox…..

I, with a background in anthropology and I, who really want to delve into nowadays’ societal and cultural issues, am standing on the bench of unemployment while individuals who have no idea how to approach cultural and social issues or who have no theoretical background in this are shouting out loud: ‘Help people with special needs’! . Gosh, that was a talk I listened to at PIC (Pyramid Impact Collective) Shanghai. So let’s discriminate people and place them into a special and separate group from ours by calling them : people with special needs. It is ridiculous: us (normal) versus them (special needs). I am not gonna go deeper into this, but it does seem like we are regressing to previous issues of us (white, intelligent) versus them (non-white, colonized). Except now we have different categories of us (full physical and mental abilities individuals) and them (individuals who mentally and physically relate to the world in a different way). I thought we were over that.

But getting back to the job problem.  As I was saying, I find this battle of mine to find an entry-level job as a young graduate paradoxical. Why? Because, on one side, people without experience and proper backgrounds in anthropology and sociology are working in domains that require both practical and theoretical knowledge. On the other side, the more I struggle to swim through nowadays competitive market the more I feel like I am worthless. Most of the jobs out there are for people with 2+ years experience. On top of that, the more certificates you have, the more languages you speak, the more freaking additional skills you have the better it is. And I feel left out, I am not a superhuman. I wonder who is? Then how do young people find jobs? And how do all these individuals without sociological and anthropological backgrounds end up in NGOs?

You would say, well, they start with an internship….and that’s fine…for those who want to do that…but I can’t and I am really against that…why? Because for more than 7 years of my life (bachelor and master) my parents have been supporting me financially and I feel ashamed to ask them to keep supporting me for one more year while I work for free. Because that’s how I see it. Big companies want interns that slave for them…no? Aren’t interns a kind of modern slaves? No offence to those who do internships…I’m sure you gain a lot of valuable skills and knowledge…but at the same time why don’t companies pay at least a minimum wage so graduates can sustain themselves and become independent? I mean, I will be 27 years old on the 13th of December and I want to be independent and to start my career in an NGO or a social  entrepreneurship group. Because my studies are related to that and afterall, this is my passion. Why don’t I get the chance to do that? I mean, what’s the point of studying at all if all I get to do is an internship or getting a job in something that completely bores me and drains all my energy just to be able to put food on the table and pay the rent?

I agree that we live in a very competitive society and we have to fight for what is ours, but isn’t this pushed to an extreme? I am not the type of individual who can multitask to the extent that I can juggle a full-time internship and many part-time jobs to pay the rent and at the same time save some personal time for myself to stay sane. I feel like internships are for rich kids. My parents can’t support me any longer. And when I think about it, my parents were financially independent when they were about 24. So how can I ask them for money and work for free or for a meagre amount of money just to gain experience?  If you ask me…internships are just a cheap and dirty way to cut down on costs and make poor susceptible young graduates slave and do jobs that otherwise employees would do for a real salary. So no, I am not going to do an internship…I am going to keep looking for that one workplace that will give me the chance to get a visa, earn a fair salary and be able to survive in this city and in this country by paying my own bills and buying my own food and by giving me the chance to develop and use my energy, my creativity, my skills in their company.

P.S: One last thing, I was given a free piece of ‘smart advice’. I was told by some people (who supposedly are great, intelligent and working in social change) that I victimize myself and that I create a negative image for myself by complaining or by revealing that I am unemployed and looking for a job and for a chance to start my career. I was advised to pump up my image and to advertise myself,  to present myself as what I want to be instead of what I am. And that, to me, seems to be faking it…’smart advice’ from self-image and goal setting coaches. What is wrong with admitting the truth, with recognizing that I am vulnerable and  that I am going through a situation that many other people faced at some point in their lives? And btw, the PR department uses negative publicity once in a while as a positive thing. ‘Bad publicity is better than no publicity at all!’

Leaving all jokes aside: I am fed up with this : ‘Everything works fine and I am a great individual with no problems’ and with ‘I will never show my weak spots and I will not admit to needing help’. I am going to make a parallel here. It is like asking racially discriminated people to stop complaining about it and stop showing it to others because they would become vulnerable and everyone will perceive them as victims. But hell, they have been mistreated and the problem comes from the others, not from them. What a load of crap: we should be talking about it, we should be revealing it…because part of the problem is that society, people, companies, the environment and everything that belongs to it is treating us like that. We, young people, want more chances to work and to show what we are capable of! And people who have been racially discriminated want society to own up to it. We should make those responsible realize that they are unfair…and that we want a change!