Learning empathy from an unlikely place

I’ve definitely been in a deeper thinking mood the last few days. My mind just feels unlocked and “free.” It’s like I’m able to take what I learn or see, and open myself up a little bit more than normal. I still have my mental blocks and obstacles, sure. But after receiving a lesson in empathy from the most unlikely place, I feel like I might be able to better understand people in general.

I recently rewatched Dave Chappelle’s most recent Netflix comedy special The Closer. I’ve watched the show three times since it came out at the beginning of the month, and each time, I’ve busted out laughing! Dave’s brand of comedy might be off-putting to many, as evidenced by the loud opposition he’s gotten from it. But I’ve always liked him. He’s a comedian in every sense of the word. He pokes fun at everyone. And when he’s not cracking jokes, he’s often telling stories from his life that have some deeper lesson or meaning to them. This was the case with his friend, the late comedienne Daphne Dorman.

I really enjoyed his stories about how Daphne, a transgender woman, laughed at his jokes, even though they were about the transgender community. At one point, one of Dave’s shows just became a back and forth dialogue between him and Daphne about what being a transgender person is like. Dave asked the questions, and Daphne provided her perspective and the answers. I need to find footage of this, so I can learn a new perspective better, as I am largely ignorant about what goes on in the transgender community. I readily admit that. I want to learn more about why they think the way they think, and how they see things.

But what happened next snapped me awake, and completely revolutionized the way I should view ALL people who are different from me. Not just those in the transgender or LGBTQ community, but everyone I meet. Close to the end of the show, Dave thanked Daphne for exchanging dialogue with him and having a discussion. But then he chuckled while also saying he had no idea what the hell she was talking about, and that he didn’t understand her. Without missing a beat, she says something I’m going to remember when it comes to trying to put myself in everyone’s shoes in the future: “I don’t need you to understand. I just need you to believe that I’m having a human experience!”

Daphne Dorman

Wow… I know Daphne was referring to Dave understanding her as a transgender woman. But I took it further. I have a question for all of you: How often do you dehumanize those you don’t understand or disagree with? It’s certainly easy to do. Especially in these trying times that are absolutely rife with political propaganda and other junk. I’m certainly guilty of it. We become so dismissive, arrogant, cold, heartless and aloof when we don’t follow Daphne’s advice. When we don’t see those who are radically different from us as what they are, human, we fail to show love, compassion and empathy. Three things that are SORELY, SORELY needed in this world!

I have friends who believe radically different things from me. They probably shake their head and laugh at some aspects of my worldview. Just like I’ve often shook my head at theirs at times. But above all, I respect them and love them dearly. Why? Because they are human, and worthy of my love and respect. God loves me, so why shouldn’t I show that same love to others, especially the ones who it might not be as easy for me to love or understand?

One of my best friends is an atheist, who couldn’t have a more radically different worldview from my own. But we’ve always gotten along and respected each other and cared about each other. While I obviously cannot know what she’s thinking, and she cannot know what I’m thinking, I think simply empathizing with each other and supporting each other as we both try to navigate life, is what makes our friendship work. Plus the mutual respect is there, along with honest communication. I don’t always understand how she sees things the way she does. But I don’t need to. The way I view things, is that God put her in my life for a reason. I don’t know what that reason is, and may never know. But I do know I am supposed to be compassionate toward her and be a loyal friend.

I know this is an example from my own life. And I am most certainly not calling for people to be friends with everyone. Some people may not like you no matter what you do, and vice versa. There are people I don’t get along with, and they don’t get along with me. But at our most basic level, when we see everyone as human, and believe that they have hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations just like we do, we can open ourselves up to greater compassion.

We need to open ourselves up. Because if we don’t, we risk perpetuating fear, anger and hate, which can have some seriously bad consequences. Forgive the Star Wars reference from Jedi Grandmaster Yoda, but “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering!”

Daphne Dorman was a rare person. Not in the fact that she was transgender. But in the fact that she openly supported Dave Chappelle, while so many in the transgender community were calling for him to be shut down and for The Closer to be removed from Netflix for containing material that was “harmful” to the transgender community. It took courage for Daphne to speak her mind.

She wrote a very classy tweet about Dave after the release of his 2019 Netflix special Sticks and Stones, which also got a lot of heat for its transgender jokes. I had to smile when I heard Dave read out the tweet, which said:

Punching down requires you to consider yourself superior to another group. @DaveChappelle doesn’t consider himself better than me in any way. He isn’t punching up or punching down. He’s punching lines. That’s his job and he’s a master of his craft.

Sadly, the reaction to this tweet was so full of anger and hate, that six days afterward, Daphne Dorman jumped off the top of her apartment building to her death. Yep. She killed herself. She was cyberbullied to death by the transgender community. The very group of people who should’ve understood her the best and empathized with her. They’ve now got her blood on their hands, and will have to answer for it on the day they die. It’s horribly sad. But I believe if they had followed Daphne’s own advice to Dave, and believed in understanding somebody’s humanity, rather than their view, that she would still be alive today.

I don’t want to end this blog post on such a dark note, so I’ll encourage you. You may not understand many people. Hell, you may not even like many people. But at the end of the day, they are just as human as you are. Somewhere deep in there, you share something in common with them. A commonality that has the potential to slowly bring down walls, and teach compassion. And if not compassion, at least respect. A deep and abiding respect that all of humanity needs to learn and put into practice. We need not always understand each other. But we should always believe that we’re all having a human experience.

Published by Luke Wickiser

Hi everybody! I'm passionate about many subjects, such as faith, history, politics, and sports. Stay tuned to Luke's Thoughts for updates on all these things!

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