Monday, March 16, 2015

Lost and gained opportunities - location, location, location

Does where you live give you a better 'empathy' environment?

Several years ago, I took a sociology class. The teacher talked about a city environment, where we have social 'circles' that we spend time living in. These circles are the folks we see on the bus every day, our co-workers or classmates, the people we see at the grocery store on Saturday mornings and the crowd at the bar at night. There may be nobody in common among all of these circles - that means that my past days as a city dweller were filled with the chance to meet lots and lots of new people.

Look; a diagram!

I left the city over 10 years ago. My reality now is that I still do have these 'social circles' around me, but they are very few and they have many more people in common. The crowd I meet at the school with my kids are the same people I would see at the grocery store, or at the local coffee bar. Also, I travel in a car and not by bus or train; so I'm not likely to meet anyone when going from one place to another.

I think that leaving the city means I left the numerous circles behind, and as a result, have fewer interactions. It seems obvious now - if I live where there are fewer people then I will meet fewer people in my daily life. So is it better? 


I have no regrets about leaving the city, because I don't think my ability to grow empathy is really affected by how many people I *could* meet every day. All that matters, for me, is to try to make every chance count. If I, by choosing to live in the country, run into less people, that just means I have to be super purposeful with the people I do meet. 

My community is the place where I can take my empathy chances. My community just happens to be a bit smaller than it used to be.

What about you - Where you live, do you have lots of opportunities, or very few? Do you think that where you live makes a difference in your chances to grow your empathy muscles?



SL said...

When was the last time you had a conversation with a Black person, a Hispanic person, a person from the Philippines, a Chinese person, a Hindu? an orthodox Jew? A Christian Scientist? etc.? :) When was the last time you saw a street person?

Janet said...

I do meet people from different backgrounds (racial, sexual, religious, economic) however, where I live it's about as rare as any other of my connection opportunities.

It sounds like that since you live in the city, you have more varied people to meet.

What does having this variety do for your empathy-building?

SL said...

It's a little easier to find empathy with someone who is more like you. Finding empathy with someone who is different takes a little bit more emotional stretch. That, plus every encounter in the city has to include 'is this person a threat to my safety'?

Janet said...

Based on that, wouldn't it be harder to build up a good empathy practice? That is; if most city encounters are with someone different, who are hard to talk to, AND if in every encounter, you feel fear - wouldn't that make empathy much more difficult to build in a city environment?

Or is that your point?

SL said...

Yes, it is harder, but we get more opportunities to try and more experience at it. Everyday encounters require stretching our empathy muscles.

Janet said...

Wonderful! Thanks SL! I think it sounds like you have a lot of ways you can build up empathy in the city environment. Different backgrounds make for challenges, but they also make for bigger leaps in our mind.