This week is Depression Awareness Week. In the midst of all the articles, videos and experiences that have been shared- two in particular have stood out for me. One is an article by an incredible person who I know very well - the other is a film by a courageous man who I have never met. The key thing that binds both of these pieces together is their ability to inspire empathy. Empathy is that most tricksy of human emotions- it can be hard to find and quickly lost. It can be easy to confuse sympathy with empathy- this short film showing the absolute gulf between these two states.
Whenever I think of empathy, I think of Scout Finch and her journey towards this emotion. The oft quoted line from To Kill a Mockingbird is, 'you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them'. This line appears in Chapter 31 but for me, I think the more revealing line is much earlier in the novel, in Chapter 3 when Atticus Finch says, 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it'. This, I feel, is the more truthful of Atticus' reflections on empathy.
Empathy is hard- it's not always the feasible situation of stepping into someone else's shoes- it's the altogether more slippery task of climbing into someone else's skin. This doesn't make it impossible but it does make it very challenging. At Pixel Learning, we aim to inspire empathy in young people and we are well aware of the enormity of that task. However, I think that as humans, we have an ace card that gives us an evolutionary headstart in the quest for empathy. We have creativity and storytelling. Harper Lee knew this when she told the fictional tale of Scout Finch and this is why we have chosen to use documentary film to get young people talking about mental health.
This week's blog by Andy Dunn and video by Doug Leddin have re-affirmed my belief in how words and film can inspire empathy. Both Andy and Doug talk about depression. I empathise with both of them. At this point, I should say that I have suffered with depression, I have been in that skin but I also think that even if I hadn't, their words would help me climb in. Andy's metaphor of the room and Doug's straight talking are understandable to everyone.
I think that there is a grain of truth when Tim Lott says that it is impossible to ever truly understand depression if you haven't experienced it. However, I don't think that rules out empathy. The definition of empathy is, 'the capacity to understand or feel what another being (a human or non-human animal) is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference'. In my eyes, the feeling is more important than the understanding. If we can even part way, try and feel someone else's pain and the utter misery of depression then we're moving forward. One of the many truly brilliant things about To Kill a Mockingbird is that it recognises that complete and utter empathy is really difficult. Scout can never truly understand what it is like to be Boo Radley but actually 'just standing on the Radley porch was enough’.
So in Depression Awareness Week, I would like to thank the people who stood on the porch with me when I was depressed. And for those few who managed to climb into my skin. You are the very best of humans.