Make that empathy work


It’s been a strange week. I read an article in the Irish Times yesterday in which the journalist Michael Harding professed his shame and horror at being Irish, after the awful news broke about Savita Halappanavar. I think we all felt a little bit of that last week. To see him criticised on social media as being self-indulgent struck me as incredibly unfair; many of us feel as he did.

The raw anger and emotion of the past week is something we rarely see expressed so publicly. We all get shirty from time to time. But the visceral nature of the emotions on both sides of what has gone from being a story about a young woman who died in terrible circumstances, to the story of the utter failure of our political system – and of us as a people, for letting it get that way – has a huge impact.

The wave of emotion expressed by people in Ireland and around the world at the death of Savita Halappanavar has left our politicians adrift, like so much flotsam and jetsam. They are floating precariously atop a sea of voters who have suddenly turned into active participants in what’s happening around them.

Is it too much to hope that this emotion will not dissipate, and it will instead be focused into action, to turn the shadowland of Irish systemic morality into a place of compassion?

On Friday, I attended the funeral of a much-loved and well regarded elderly neighbour I have known all my life. Lizzie was a lovely woman. We were not especially close, but her warmth and sense of fun was something recognised by the entire locality, and there was a real grief at her passing. The whole community – people I’d never have expected and plenty of the usual suspects – turned out for a funeral that was as much an expression of joy at a life well lived as a mourning for someone we will not see again.

That same evening, I visited a family member in hospital to meet her new baby girl. The latest addition to our family is a perfect being with eyes the colour of midnight and the most delicate, tiny fingers I have ever seen. Family and friends had been and gone before we arrived and we had her and her mother to ourselves for an hour or so. It was magical.

People are the only thing that matters, and it is love of and compassion for each other that makes the world go around. We go to funerals to show solidarity, to express our pain, and love, and our empathy with each other. The urge to meet a new person, and to welcome them into your world, is borne of a fellow feeling and a shared humanity with the tiniest person you know. So are the marches and protests and vigils honouring the memory of Savita Halappanavar.

For those who’ve come and gone from this world, it’s too late for us to do anything but express those emotions to their loved ones. But for the new ones, for the tiny new people with fingernails the size of match-heads and eyes that haven’t learned to see yet, we need to make sure that emotion is channeled into something good that will make the world a better, more compassionate place for them. Welcome to the world, baby girl.

This is my editorial from today’s Cork Independent. It’s also been recorded as an Audioboo by Paul O’Mahony, who you might know from Twitter as @Omaniblog. His reading of it is wonderful – you can listen here: http://audioboo.fm/boos/1072760-make-that-empathy-work-by-deirdre-o-shaughnessy-deshocks

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One comment

  1. People are the only thing that matters, and it is love of and compassion for each other that makes the world go around.
    I love this. It’s something I’ve been so painfully aware of this week as well- between the gutwrenching tragedy of Savita and the Trans Day of Remembrance, the loveliness and hope in Pink Training, and wonderful long days spent with people I love who I hardly ever see. It’s been a hell of a week or two for empathy.

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