Have you watched the French series THE COLLAPSE? It's an end of the world scenario – panic buying in supermarkets, riots at petrol stations, European refugees, and nuclear power stations without cooling systems. The other day I talked to my daughter about it.
In the series, there are some rich people who've acquired a rare and very expensive space on an island where they escape to once the chaos starts. I told my daughter that this is really happening – people are buying land in New Zealand and even whole Pacific Islands in case things are getting very bad. She wondered, 'what could happen?', to which I replied, 'anything can happen.' Nuclear war. Crash of the economic system. Ecological Armageddon. A lethal virus.
We kept talking and I said it's difficult to imagine that things could go seriously wrong, but just because we haven't experienced any major crisis in the “Western civilization” in the last decades, it doesn't mean it can't happen. 'Who knows', I said, 'maybe at some point Europe will become uninhabitable and we'll need to flee to Africa. And maybe the people there would do the same we are doing now: close borders and look away.' Silence. Then my daughter turned her head to me and said, 'or maybe they will let us in.' Me: 'Why should they do that?' She: 'Because they know what it feels like to not get help.'
It was a beautiful thought my daughter had. Some might criticise it was innocent and naïve, but if we're honest, she actually pointed out one of humanity's biggest problems: our lack of empathy. Because unless we improve our ability to put ourselves in the situation of others, I don't think there's much hope of anything getting better. And so to make things better, we need to train our empathetic muscle. A little bit every day. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities:
Feel the fear of an old person who's scared of getting Covid. Feel the fear of a bar owner when new Corona restrictions are announced. Feel the fear of those who fear losing their freedom. Feel the fear of Millions having no food to eat.
Feel the worry of climate activists looking at melting ice shields. Feel the worry of Islanders confronted with rising sea level. Feel the worry of Indigenous tribes seeing their rivers being polluted. Feel the worry of a child who might not have a future.
Feel the pain of a man losing his home to bombs. Feel the pain of a woman being raped by soldiers. Feel the pain of a girl who suffers from sickness on a refugee boat. Feel the pain of a boy who sees his best friend drown.
Feel the despair of 20,000 people who are ignored in a refugee camp on a Greek Island while many Europeans start panic-buying toilet paper again. Feel the despair of farmers who lose their land and livelihood because consumers don't want to pay a fair price for their products. Feel the despair of a mother who can't feed her child when one third of all food in the world is being wasted. Feel the despair of those dying alone. Of the trees that are cut down and the animals kept in tiny cages.
Feel all of it, the fear, the worry, the pain, the despair. Because only if we feel it, we might change what we think and how we act. Only if we feel the other, our self-centred obsession might end.