The Two Faces of Hardship – A Short Note On Empathy and Awareness

The recent Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has swept the globe and brought many different aspects of our society into focus.

Today, I read recent actions taken in India in an attempt to curtail the spread and manage through this > Here is a link to that headline

Many of you may already know but to those that do not – India holds a special place in my heart.

My grandparents emigrated from India and found a new home in the United States back in the 70’s.

I have always had a tie in India through extended family and relatives. And the most recent headlines brought me to think about some experiences I have often drawn from, sourced in India and traveling to other countries in general.

Hardship has two faces.

I remember being very young, concluding a month long trip to India visiting extended family.

I remember it was a late, misty, night arriving at the airport in Delhi for a red-eye flight. It was at this point in my life, it became very clear to me how good my life was – and how lucky I was.

Within moments, I would be boarding a comfortable flight back to my home – in Nashville, Tennessee – Franklin to be exact. I would be greeted by my comfy bed sheets, a T.V. in my room (which was a big deal back in the day) and all the snacks and food I may have missed while I was gone.

As we were entering the airport, I remember meeting eyes with a young boy (probably close to my age at the time, 7 to 9 years of age). He was looking towards the crowds of people entering the airport from a distance, obvious homeless (near homeless), rugged.

I could see a deep exhaustion in his eyes, even from a distance. But also, a face filled with curiosity.

Our lives were diametrically opposing.

While I was on my way back to a reality he could only imagine, he was living one I couldn’t possibly fathom.

This is simply one example to illustrate something I think may be all too obvious for you reading this note.

Hardship has two faces; a relative one and an absolute one.

As soon as we can witness the immense degree of separation between our reality and the reality for those less fortunate than ourselves; we begin to see this 5th dimension at work.

We can see the relative nature of our suffering and pain.

But the peculiar thing to point out is, when we are unaware of this gap – physiologically, emotionally, mentally and every other which way > we register our own suffering and burden with the same degree of intensity as someone much less fortunate than ourselves.

This phenomenon works in the reverse as well. How many times have you seen memes, stories and artifacts around the happiness of the “rich vs the poor”?

Perhaps an image of a poor villager with a more genuine impression than you have ever come to wear?

All of this is to say, we have no control over the absolute hardship we face until we assume control over the relative nature of our existence.

Awareness. Empathy. These are the two feet of solidarity.

And the true sign of any leader is one that firstly defines reality as he or she sees it before curating responses and initiatives.

I feel this applies in every domain of society; business, politics and personal relationships.

So next time you are face to face with hardship. Ask it a question:

What face are you showing me today.

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