What a Simple Conversation with a School Girl Taught Me About Empathy

“Does it hurt your feelings?” It was a simple question, and yet these five words taught me the gravity of choosing empathy, always.

Let me begin by saying that I have never, and will never, experience the inexcusable oppression that people of colour all around the world have experienced for years.

Sharing this story below is in no way an attempt to try and compare an experience I have had with the prejudice against all people of colour that has happened, and is sadly still happening today.

Instead, I want to highlight how this simple, yet profound conversation I had with a school girl has shaped my view on empathy and the significance of showing love to everybody at all times, not just some people when we feel like it.

As we waited for our safari guide to return to our car, my sister and I were approached by a group of about 15 young school children in Tanzania, Africa.

They pointed at us, calling out ‘mzungu’ with huge smiling faces and waved, as they walked over to where we were standing.

We waved at them, smiling back – completely aware that the term ‘mzungu’ is translated in English to ‘white man’.

The conversation began with their school excursion for the day, before one girl among the group suddenly asked us, “do white people like it when we call them mzungus?”

I looked at her smiling and said, “to be honest, no – not really.”

She asked further, “Why is that? Does it hurt your feelings?”

My sister and I looked at each other, incredibly impressed by her interest in this subject. “It doesn’t make us feel good, that’s for sure!” we replied.

Her next response was so simple, yet so profound.

The young school girl looked around at her friends and said, “Well if it hurts your feelings, I don’t know why we call you that then.”

She paused and looked back at us, “It’s mean! I’m not going to call white people mzungus anymore.”

Wow, right. Honestly, I didn’t realise the depth of her words until right now.

That was it. She didn’t need any further explanation from us. The fact that this single word was hurting our feelings was enough for her to decide that she needed to do something about it.

At the core of what she was saying, this young twelve-year-old had a complete understanding of what it means to show empathy.

And I don’t know about you, but right now, amidst the global conversations that are taking place – I think there is an incredibly powerful lesson in that.

As I said, in no way am I trying to compare this conversation I had to what is happening in our world right now.

But white friends – I want you to seriously take on board the lesson that I learnt from this conversation.

We need to acknowledge that there is a problem.

We need to listen to those who have experienced, or are experiencing, oppression.

We need to learn from one another in order to further our understanding.

We need to actively empathise with those who are hurting.

As a Christian, I strive to live as a reflection of Jesus and that means choosing empathy, always.

Here are just a small handful of my favourite verses regarding this empathetic nature we need to adopt daily:

  • Romans 12:15 (ESV) says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
  • 1 Corinthians 12 refers to the body of Christ having many parts. Specifically, verse 26 says, “if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad” (NLT).
  • And of course, the heart of Jesus’ ministry encapsulated within John 13:34 (ESV): “to love one another, just as I have loved you.”

The conversation that is taking place right now regarding Black Lives Matter is incredibly important. However, the injustice and racism that people of colour have experienced is something that has unfortunately been happening for many years.

I can honestly tell you that I have not taken this issue of race as seriously as this before.

I have always known that racism occurs, not only in America, but here in my own backyard too. But to what extent exactly – I have not taken the responsibility on myself to listen and learn more about.

And for that, I want to apologise. I am listening and I am learning.

In today’s day and age, with the online world, every person with a platform has a voice that can share any message they wish, to an audience ranging from one to one million and beyond.

As Will Smith succinctly put it in his Instagram post, “Racism hasn’t gotten worse. It’s just being filmed”.

So I want to encourage you, simply posting on social media does not permit us to adopt the mentality that it will be okay to address this, share about it and simply move on once the hashtags stop trending.

Similarly, [and to be honest, more importantly], these conversations need to continue happening in our homes, workplaces, friendship circles and churches – just as much as they are occurring online right now.

As a young white woman, I want to acknowledge the privilege that I have [and have always had] purely because of the colour of my skin.

And to my white friends reading this, I also want to stress that white privilege is not something we should feel guilty or be ashamed about.

We did not choose the colour of our skin and the subsequent privileges that are associated inherently with that.

But we CAN choose to acknowledge white privilege for what it is.

We CAN choose to listen to those who have suffered injustices time and time again.

We CAN choose to stand up for our black brothers and sisters in Christ.

We CAN choose to actively and intentionally fight against racism, discrimination and injustice.

It has happened in the past, and as much as I wish we could, we unfortunately can’t change that.

But it is also happening right now, all around us.

And right now? We have an incredibly powerful opportunity to write the future.

We CAN choose empathy. We HAVE to choose empathy.

It won’t be the solution, but it is absolutely a part of it.

Keep smiling. x

walking alone on road through forest

The More the Merrier: Why It’s Not the Case When It Comes to Friends.

Something I remember so vividly on my last day of school is that one line your friends would say: “I’m going to miss you so much!” followed by my personal favourite, “we will keep in touch”.  Yeah, we all know how that ends.

Inevitably, life happens and we get busy. Friends drift and you often find yourself spending time with other people. Can I just be super upfront and say what we all might be thinking? Friendships are hard. After school, everything changes. You have to start putting in the effort to make time to see each other.

Something I’ve noticed as I’ve grown up is that I am a full-time people pleaser. Other things I have learnt over the years is that I am extroverted, have a fear of missing out and love being around people. I often hold grudges, but I also give second, third and fourth chances way too easily. I try to convince myself that I don’t care about what other people think, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I too often seek validation from people.

GIF of Phoebe from TV show FRIENDS saying "I'm a really cool person".

When it comes to friendships, I’m the type of person who will make up excuses on your behalf. If you’ve been acting a little distant or perhaps hurt me in the past, I’ll analyse my side of the friendship and blame myself for whatever went wrong — failing to appreciate that it is in fact a two way street.

The last year or so has challenged me to determine who my true friends are and one huge lesson I have learnt is that often, ‘more’ doesn’t always equate to ‘merrier’ when it comes to friends. I’m not saying you won’t be happy if you have lots of friends, I’m saying your priority needs to lie within quality not quantity.

At the end of last year, I prayed really hard about all of my friends. I asked for clarity in determining who was meant to be in my life and reassurance, as well as acceptance for those who were perhaps meant to drift.

You see, I’m not great at losing friends. In fact, I hate it. Whenever I feel a friend becoming distant, nine times out of ten I will hold onto them with both hands, doing all that I can not to lose them. I will put in more effort, rather than realising that relationships of any sort require equal effort to work. In other words: you can’t be the only one doing it all. Perhaps some people have been placed in your life in a particular season for a certain reason.

So long story short: I kept praying. And here’s where the God-things happened. They say good things come in threes and these following three weeks definitely lived up to that saying.

god-thing #1:

A friend from university messaged me and we organised a time to catch up. We had met in our first class and ever since, our friendship had grown stronger. We just clicked; sharing the same passions, clumsiness and cheesy sense of humour.

We had lunch together and talked about our dreams for the year. Driving home that afternoon I realised that this friend had been placed in my life for a reason. I felt so encouraged and completely motivated to kick my goals. She believed in me and I believed in her. A friendship centred on empowerment, rather than competition.

god-thing #2:

I kept praying. A week later I attended a youth camp filled with amazing people and incredible programs. After one of the night programs, one of my closest friends and I were catching up. Despite a crazy nine years of friendship, we have had our fair share of ups and downs. We have experienced distance not only physically, but sometimes emotionally too, due to living so far away.

We spoke for a while about life and before we knew it we had moved away from the crowds, positioning ourselves outside in the middle of the campground. Two plastic chairs with two vulnerable women seated, placing their hearts before God. We prayed for each other. Hard. We took turns speaking words of encouragement and affirmation over one another and with tear-stained cheeks, I can honestly say that it was one of the most powerful things that we have both experienced together.

god-thing #3:

I kept praying. A few days before the youth camp a friend from high-school sent me a text asking how I was. Since leaving school, we have caught up a few times and it’s one of those friendships that pick up right where you left off, no matter how long it’s been since you saw one another last.

After a few lengthy texts back and forth over the course of almost two weeks, we figured it’d be easier to call. Fast forward two hours and we had covered a lot of ground. Turns out we were both experiencing the same period in our lives, trying to filter through our list of acquaintances and work out who was genuinely a friend. We ended up meeting up for lunch a few days later, but the entire time we both realised how grateful we were for people who put in the effort to just show up and be present.

These three separate friends and three separate events showed me that God was not only listening to my prayers, but He had in fact answered them. These friends had been placed in my life for a reason and while each person came from a completely different walk of life, they shared one common purpose in mine: they were my cheerleaders.

And no, I don’t mean they all brought pom poms and started chanting for me when we caught up (although, I’d be totally cool with that too). But they were placed in my life to speak words of encouragement, affirmation and empowerment into both my heart and mind. To truly believe in me. To genuinely care. To be accepting and open. To be authentic and real. To listen. To be a cheerleader.

two friends hugging

I truly believe that God places these people in your life to be a prominent reminder of the way He cares and loves for you. After all, life is all about people. Finding others to journey alongside through it all and experience things with. Having relationships where the effort is mutual and you are both cheering one another on. And you know what? God is continuing to show me who those people are.

Life is not about being alone, but it’s also not about surrounding yourself with so many people you feel lost. There are many people who have lots of friends, and yet they still feel lonely. That’s not what life is about.

We often fail to remember that our timing is not always aligned with God’s timing. This year, trust His plan for you — including the people He is placing in your life and those He is slowly taking out.

Maybe seeking validation from others and striving to please people is actually feeding the emptiness and loneliness that we sometimes experience. Don’t allow yourself to become so dependent on other people for your happiness that your worth diminishes when those people do drift.

Here’s to few friends, but damn good ones.

Keep smiling. x