About Empathy and Responsibility

This time I was reminded of a lesson I have learned in the past: lesson about how to empathize and the limit of our responsibilities.

I have a friend. We have never met, but I think of that person as a friend. I’ll call her Melati in this post. We knew each other because I posted some of my writings online and she read them. It turned out that we have similar experiences; we started chatting and get to know each other.

Recently we exchanged email address so we can communicate more comfortably.  We talk about “trivial” stuffs such as what kind of assignments/work we need to get done that day, or our favorite celebrities.

We have never met. We don’t know each other’s faces. We live separated by the vast ocean. Yet I feel an emotional bond with Melati.

One time Melati sent me an email. One of Melati’s friends was thinking that their life was miserable and seemed like they are about to do something bad.  Melati panicked. Melati said that she didn’t know what to say to her friend, she’s scared that what she say might push her friend into the wrong direction.

Reading Melati’s email reminded me of something that happened to me. I have another friend, I’ll call her Rosa here. There was a time when Rosa was acting like Melati’s friend. When Rosa tried to do something rash, I panicked. I even cried and I called my father. Thankfully Rosa turned out to be fine; she just needed time to calm herself and she got back to her daily life.

From that experience I learned something. We are responsible for our words and action, but not for how other people respond to them. Okay, I might say or do something that make Rosa stop thinking about her unhealthy thoughts, or might even drive her more into those thoughts, who knows. And yes, I am responsible of those words and actions. But how Rosa respond to it, that doesn’t fall into my realm of responsibility.

The same thing goes to Rosa. Whatever Rosa does, that’s her responsibility. She is not responsible for how I respond to her actions. If I become so occupied with her, go panic, and can’t even perform my daily activities well, that’s my fault, not Rosa’s.

I was being arrogant by panicking over Rosa. I’m just a human. A human can influence other humans, but never have total control over them. Why did I think that my words and action were the force behind Rosa’s actions?

That is how I learned the limits to my responsibilities, and how I can empathize in a good way. I told Melati about my experience.

Actually, I’m writing this not only because I want to share and hopefully help others with similar experiences. I’m writing because I need it. Reading Melati’s email made me emotional. I cried. I felt how Melati was panic and worried. I felt how Melati’s friend got their perspective wrapped so that they couldn’t think their life as anything but miserable, that they can only be free of that miserable life by embracing death.

I accept myself for being emotional, but I don’t want to dwell on it. I need to practice my own words: Melati and her friend did make me emotional, but if I keep on being sad and depressed, that’s my responsibility.

That is why I’m writing. At least I can let others know that these things are happening to people. Maybe this writing might help them be ready when they meet people like Rosa, Melati, Melati’s friend (and me). I just hope that my emotions can be used in a good way,  and hopefully for the benefit of others.

Now Melati seemed to have calmed down. She said that her friend has started to work on their problem by telling their story to other friends too. Nobody knows what will happen, but for now, Melati has decided to trust her friend and call it day.

I told Melati, “Let me hug you. It’s not a real hug but let’s pretend it’s real *virtual hug*”

She replied, “*hugs back tightly* Thank you for being with ‘virtually’ lol”

Melati’s hug is warm. Warm and soothing, I think I’m going to sleep well tonight.

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