THEY SAY only six degrees separate us and technological advances in travel and information have made us even closer. I wouldn’t know about that.

The internet and social media have supplied us so many shortcuts that we find it easier now to communicate via “like,” meme, sticker, emoticon, and emoji than with words. Sometimes, even the graphic message is too much, and no response is given at all. It seems our very proximity mutes us.

I once lamented at length here that courtesy is dead, a phenomenon many of you confirmed. Now I think it is empathy that is dead, or at least it is dying, and I am hoping for a cure.

I can only speak for myself, but I’ve found it true that less and less people are willing to express themselves emotionally in support of another. I can’t say this is specific to a particular generation because I’ve seen it happen among the young and old of my acquaintances. But not just. Even close friends and family have become taciturn with each other. More’s the pity.

I am referring, of course, not to mundane social exchanges but to those instances when a person will purposely express or unconsciously reveal a vulnerability in a subtle search for help or affirmation.

Have you ever seen this happen – someone will reach out, personally or on social media, and no one will react? I once posted a death notice on Facebook on behalf of a friend who had lost her father to which none of our common acquaintances reacted. I couldn’t understand it. And I have facilitated small group meetings where sharing was encouraged and seen members fail or deliberately refuse to respond to their peers in emotional distress. If anything, I sensed the others withdraw, as if it were too messy for them to touch.

Intimate Couple --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Intimate Couple — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

This behavior is often explained away as “not knowing what to say,” but it is indifference, plain and simple, and should not be disguised. Let us suppose, for arguments’ sake, that it is indeed a form of ignorance, a social deficiency that hinders people from reacting compassionately – cannot this skill be learned? It is as easy as knowing one’s own pain, one’s own loneliness, even one’s own joy, and doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. Christ said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That is as clear and simple as it gets.

I don’t want to speculate on the reasons for the reticence. Self-protection is clearly high among them, but I realize it is more than that. I hope, though, that people overcome their aloofness and learn to step into the mud puddles their friends occasionally get stuck in, and pull them out. I wish that if the words elude them because they don’t understand the experience, they would occasionally be willing to get vicariously muddied too, just to see what it’s like.

More and more people fall into depression in today’s world than ever before. Many of them can do no more than put out a feeble cry for help. We don’t know who among our friends and family will be rescued by our compassion. Sometimes all it takes is a little empathy.

 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

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