By Michiko Je M. Bito-on
A few weeks ago, I made friends with a classmate in one of the subjects I’m taking. I was sitting down, watching vehicles pass by in front of the Portal West building one night.
She asked if she could join me. It took me a few seconds to reply, for I was feeling introspective at that time. She smiled and mimicked the way I was watching a line of pedicabs crawl by because of traffic.
She was known to be someone who excelled academically, was active in many organizations and had a lot of friends. She didn’t seem like someone who had a lot of problems. At first, I kept quiet but she broke the silence by asking me one hypothetical question.
“Do you think the world would be a better place if people could read other people’s minds?” she asked. It took me a while to answer her. “I don’t think so. That would be invasion of privacy.
Besides, some things are better left unsaid,” I reasoned. She nodded as if to signal that she understood my point. A few moments went by, she asked me another question: “If you could do it selectively?” She looked to my direction. “I don’t know.” I continued to face straight ahead.
We both laughed.
Here we were, watching the lively downtown scene while discussing remotely possible situations. There was another moment of silence. I couldn’t remember seeing her in class in the last two weeks.
Out of curiosity, I asked her. The aura around her abruptly shifted.
The infectious happiness suddenly changed into a gloomy one. I wanted to say sorry for prying, but she cut in.
“I have an autoimmune disease,” she said.
She started explaining to me about what she was going through.
Her bodily ails came one after the other and they had been going on for around six months. One of the worst ones she’s had was a viral infection that had a long-term adverse side effect on her nervous system. Then came episodes of bacterial and fungal infections and other complications, one after the other. She said there were only a very few weeks when she wasn’t sick. I was quiet all the while she talked about the medication she was taking, the measures her parents were taking to keep her healthy and the difficulties she was facing at school and with life in general.
“That’s why I asked you that question,” she said, “I haven’t told a lot of people about what I’m going through because it’s difficult to explain my condition and I don’t want them to pity me.” She added that what’s so hard about having her condition is that although she may look relatively healthy on the outside, the damage it causes on the inside is debilitating.
There were times when her sickness was seen as just mere excuses by her teachers and classmates because as she said, she still looks vibrant on the outside. “You know, just because I can do things well and keep living a very busy life doesn’t mean I don’t get tired and hurt. I just wish people would become more sensitive to persons like me. I think people have forgotten their natural instinct to read between the lines especially when others don’t say anything.”
We talked a bit more about her plans for the future before she left in a hurry after receiving a call. I continued to sit there for another hour, processing what just took place. She was right: people care about so many things like their jobs, their hobbies, their ambitions.
This unhealthy love for one’s self together with rapid technological advancements creates a world that is less sensitive to the emotional, physical and mental state of others. Everything seems to be about competition and pride.
The value of empathy is often underrated. We may not cure other people’s illnesses or solve their problems, but we could help them feel better or give them a head start in finding their own solutions.
Empathy should also be accompanied by sensitivity. Like my friend, there are just some things people rather not say because they are either afraid or prefer to keep it to themselves. It’s always a challenge to figure out the meaning behind words and actions but forcing information out of the person should never be used. There’s always trust and respect as means to understanding.
Insensitivity and indifference breed unnecessary suffering. We were born with an impulse to care.
Let’s use it more often, shall we?