As we try to make sense of flight MH370 and our response to it, one word seems to be bandied around quite a bit right now. That word is ‘empathy’. As in, we need empathy during this trying time. Quite literally, the word in its original Greek form means ‘to feel within’. It’s very similar to the word ‘emotion’, which literally means ‘to have motion within’.
We do need empathy during this time. To let someone, or a situation, touch us in our inner core so much that it moves us to feel something inside. The reason some don’t appear to have ‘empathy’ isn’t because they have no emotions. It’s because we live in a world that doesn’t allow us to empathise freely. Emotion is disruptive. So to allow our emotions to well up from within during this time is a great thing, if for no other reason than because we often condemn it instead of letting it move freely in our inner world.
But there’s another word that’s just as important, if not more, during this time. That word is ‘sympathy’. It literally means ‘to feel together’. And if empathy is rare, sympathy would be like spotting a rainbow after the rain. It’s horribly rare and, we all know, it’s horribly difficult. How often do we come together and be so vulnerable to each other as human beings, as a community, that we actually feel something as a collective whole, and not condemn it? Not often. Not with all our differences, all our opinions, all our grasping of the sands as we try to make sense of things that often make so little sense at all.
That is why prayer is useful during this time. Prayer isn’t some fairy dust we are sprinkling to make magic out of an end result. Prayer is us as humans taking what’s inside - our fears, grief, confusion, anger - and learning to hold it out in hope, together. And God knows we need more things that bring us together as Malaysians, not tear us apart.
So, with no specific answer to give, I can only offer this prayer: that we would learn to have sympathy. That we, as humans, as friends and strangers, just come together and learn how to… feel. It’s not a pretty sight. We all have different empathies, and it’s not something we’re used to. But if we can learn to feel, together? That could be the most powerful thing we can do, collectively, as a human race.