The Hairs On Your Head: A Lesson In Empathy [Full Version] 3/5/18

  A New Year.  A new day to be your best self.  But what if I told you there is no such thing as self? Would you stick around to hear what I have to say? Or would you dismiss my words based on their close resemblance to Hippie Rhetoric? Well let me end that now: I'm not a hippie. I'm black. Maybe one day I'll explain why black people can never truly be hippies in this country, but I feel like race can often take readers off track if it's not what we're talking about...or are we talking about it?...Maybe??? Possibly. Regardless, today's main subject is: 

 

Empathy.

 

  I have often written in the past on my travel blog about how I find myself having an extreme lack of empathy for others I interact with when I have an extreme lack of sleep, or an extreme lack of nutrition.  So when both present themselves at the same exact moment??? I am a monster in every sense of the word. This is called...a Travel Day. Ugh. On average I have 80 of these days per year. So, it's safe to say then that 1 in every 5 days you talk to me, I really don't care what you are saying to me. I'm not "there" with you, do you understand?  Most of my travel days, after I get BACK INTO the country, I then fly from Miami, Florida to Spokane, Washington -Now, go look at the map of the U.S. ...Exactly. In the wintertime this pattern becomes even more difficult to navigate because of the added climate change between the two areas.  I often find myself sick, irritable, and distinctly unpleasant to talk to in person during these days. I'm mean and very short with my words. Out loud anyway. Outside of my immediate family, I have 10 friends who I vent to via text on these days: 

 

Three are basically my brothers: One is a black dude who was my roommate after college a decade ago. One is the white version of me who I met about nine years ago. One is a Puerto Rican dude I met at a show five years ago. We are very similar human beings. We are all the same age and have the same values. We are basically "The Money Team" without "The Money". I vent to them about my everyday life offstage.

 

The next three are comics from different parts of the country who are like mentors/uncles to me. I vent to them about the business.

 

The last four are women: One is a comic who I bring on the road with me. One is my best friend since college. One is a girl who is a wizard at understanding all women in general, and pretty much gets abused by me daily with my stories about my dating life (She sorts it out for me and tells me the things I don't want to hear, but absolutely need to hear,  in a very humorous way). The last is a much younger girl I met on the cruise ships who's always upbeat and loves life and reminds me to stop complaining. 

 

There used to be a girl who I went to exclusively with all of my drama, but she passed away three years ago from breast cancer. She was only 40 when she left here. I still miss her every day. I was much more closed off back then, but her passing devastated me and taught me that you might not want to confide in just one person in life, because when they leave, you might lose everything. A part of me still can't be recovered because it left when she did.  I learned to be more honest and more forthcoming with my friends as a result, because I don't ever want to feel disconnected from the world the way I did when I lost my forever friend.

 

Fast Forward to a travel day in October of last year:

 

  I'm having one of the worst, longest, most delayed travel days I've ever experienced. It spanned the course of 2 cancelled flights, 10hrs of driving for a college show (with 5 people in attendance) due to said last minute cancelled flights, lost luggage, and 3hr delays on BOTH return flights. The last of which, when we finally boarded the plane and rode out on the tarmac, ready to take off, the plane's engines began to slow...

"NOW WHAT?!" I thought to myself. So frustrated. Not a snack in sight either (I had eaten them all during my previous delays). The pilot comes over the loud speaker and announces:

"Uh folks...We know it's been a difficult travel day for you already. But we're gonna have to turn the plane back around to the gate. I was just informed that my father has passed away. So...we're going to switch pilots...and I'm going to head home."

...I. Was. Incensed!  I texted my young friend. Mainly because she has the most patience with me when I go on text rants, and she responds the fastest. I was on TWO soapboxes that night. The conversation ensued: 

She immediately says "That's so sad his father died. Have some empathy!" 

"Sorry" I said, "People die. Is it sad? Not to me. I don't even know this pilot's first name. I can't even BEGIN to pretend to care about someone's father dying who I didn't even know existed until he spoke over the intercom. If you cared about every single person who is grieving right now, you wouldn't be able to make it out of your bed." 

She countered with "Well my mother died 5 years ago. You seemed to really care about that." 

"I KNOW you." I said.  

"So you can pick and choose to care just like that?" She asked. 

"I have to. Or else I'd have no time to function. People die. Isn't this the point of having a co-pilot? And WHAT DERANGED PERSON texts him that KNOWING he was working?! He wasn't even supposed to HAVE his phone on! That couldn't wait until he at least landed?!" 

(If you can...forgive me for the asshole you're seeing at this point of the story. Imagine yourself sleep deprived, hungry, and lacking any control over your foreseeable circumstances for 2 days straight of travel, and now trapped in a tube with 200 coughing strangers. You tend to not make sense from a "Being a decent human being" standpoint. Basically what I'm asking you to do is the same thing I was completely failing to do in the moment I am currently describing: Have some empathy. Just a little. No? Ok, I get that. Moving on...) 

That's when she said something that snapped me out of my rant and made the situation emotionally relevant to me. She simply asked:

"WELL...would YOU want to be in the air with a pilot who just lost his father?! What if he's suicidal? You don't know what his father meant to him." 

I calmed down completely.

"You are 100% correct. I'll shut the hell up now." I said with a nervous chuckle emoji.

  I knew I was being absolutely ridiculous in that moment. Ironically, I was upset because I wanted to get home sooner so I could hang out with MY dad. He's my best friend and I'd absolutely be lost without him. Yet I couldn't see passed myself in that moment to actually process that the pilot onboard my plane very well may have just lost the very thing I have. What if that was his best friend? My friend's mom was her best friend, and she had lost her. I should have just been grateful to have a father to go home to, but instead I had already made myself the victim, and began complaining. I was disconnected. I was self-important and selfish. I surprised myself...a little. 

  Truth be told, I purposely disconnect from people, because I meet so many new people and leave so many new people concurrently, due to my traveling lifestyle, that I find it hard to develop attachments to others anymore. Meeting new people had become stressful for me. "I already have enough people." I'd tell myself. I still get anxiety about it because I feel like for every new person I meet, there's someone my brain must now let go of to create space. My hard drive is full. Some days I'd rather hide than meet someone new.  Most days actually. I realize how strange this sounds as I write it, but that is my truth. However, life is about balance, and just like a partially charged phone, no matter how capable you feel using it in the moment, eventually you're going to have to connect to a power source for it to continue functioning properly, or else it will be useless very soon... 

  Something profound happened after that text message session with my friend. I started connecting more with nearly all of my friends again. I started listening a little longer to both my friends as well as complete strangers who I had normally zoned out on in previous conversations. If you really listen to people...I mean REALLY focus...you'll hear exactly what is troubling them. They tell you. Involuntarily. I began to surmise that my issues and problems were more closely related to theirs than I initially believed. I felt a pattern emerging amongst my experiences:

  The pilot lost his father. Which led me to inadvertently contact a friend who lost her mother. Which reminded me to be grateful for my father, and also my mother, who raised me and my three brothers to be a true family even though we all had different fathers, and reminded me of what a challenge that had to have been for her. Two days later I received a message from a woman I had dated briefly who was also a single mom raising all boys. It was surprising to hear from her after all these years. I just asked how she was doing and she said she had just lost her mom and grandmother in the same month. WOW.  I asked her all about them, and what they were like. I could tell it was therapeutic for her to share these memories. A few days prior I wouldn't have even known how to manage that call. I would've thought to myself "What does this have to do with ME?" Or something else self-absorbed. My empathy, like a muscle, had weakened to an unrecognizable level due to lack of use, but has continued to grow exponentially now that I am actively exercising it again.

  Not every example has to be life and death either. Sometimes it's just a matter of picking someone up quickly enough before they ever have the chance to fall. I often check in on my comedian friends when I see them posting social media status updates that are...more self deprecating than usual let's say. As a comedian, you can tell when a joke post is more than a joke post. Comedians are always in danger of spiraling downward because they can find themselves in recurring situations that produce extended periods of social isolation. Either by location or within their own mind. I've seen full, budding comedy careers end over a bad mental state that lingers a little too long with no one checking in on the affected party.  Most performers I've met seem to lack the mechanism for self-correction without a little outside assistance. Myself included.

  Comedy is very much a communal artform where we pick each other up best we can...but still, as in any profession, there are a large amount of scavengers who are only out for themselves. The sad part is those people in question don't exactly get weeded out by the positive forces of nature.  OFTEN times the "weeds" succeed, which sends most of us in the industry into bouts of depression lol (I'm not laughing out loud though. Dead-ass serious. Ask a young comic the last time they got depressed about this industry. More often than not it's because they watched someone they knew get a break that they didn't, so they retrace their steps and try to figure out why it wasn't them, and will it EVER be. Or if they've had it before, will it ever happen again. They hide it best they can, but if you ask them twice, they'll tell you I bet). So when I cross paths with my brothers and sisters in this industry, and they are in need of a lift to their spirit, I do my best to pick them back up and remind them who they are. I'll never let them quit. Because the moment I let them quit...it technically means I've quit too.

  You simply cannot just stop caring in this industry on some level. The moment you lose your passion for what you do, you can lose everything you know to be you in that same moment. The apathy shows to everyone around you, and you may never capture that light about yourself which made you special at what you do ever again.

  As a result of this understanding, and out of pure necessity, I have developed a philosophy that guides me, and protects my passion. Whenever I get too wrapped up in the minutia of my life's problems, I remind myself to "Zoom Out": It can always be worse, AND it can always get better. Choose your view. No matter what your view is, you're experiencing the same moment in time as everyone else. Life is happening to us all, at the exact same time. Different stages for us all sure, but occuring simultaneously nonetheless. And often we forget that life is not happening TO us, or even around us...it's just happening. We are but tiny specs in this galaxy.

  We all develop our own storyline in our mind, based around us being the main character, to try to make sense of it all. But we don't really know why things happen the way they do. Good or bad. We can guess. And we DO. Educated guesses are common in this realm (sarcasm), but the future is a myth if you really think about it. Whatever you thought life was leading toward can turn on its head tomorrow. Death, natural disasters, a car accident, an election, job lay-offs, the new girl at the coffee shop...You don't freaking know! Just keep in mind that the randomness you experience hits us all, and without bias. The forces at play are much larger than we can continually comprehend, because we are so miniscule on a planetary scale, that we forget to feel for others outside of our scope. We have trained ourselves to be apathetic as a species. Virtually immune to the pain and suffering in so much of the world around us. The reason? For our own survival, ironically. Can't think about everyone else all the time, because you wouldn't be able to get anything done in life, right? Well then I ask you this:

 

If thinking of others too often prohibits you from being effective in your daily life...have you ever thought that maybe there's something intrinsically off about what you're doing in your life? Have you considered that maybe the activities you have been taught to believe are "productive" in our society are actually the exact opposite? We weren't designed to sit in front of a computer. Or mass produce and slaughter animals for profit. Or to develop imbalances in perceived social value amongst people by creating a system of currency and wealth so trivial, it's almost more of an idea than it is tangible. Do you ever wonder if maybe at some point in our existence, we actually WERE wired to telepathically connect with one another in range, like wi-fi routers, but the selfish pricks among our ancestors outpopulated and overthrew the mentally powerful population to the point of extinction??? What's all that brain matter that we are not accessing about anyway? What are we capable of thinking and feeling if we could access that unused portion of our mind???

 

...I have no idea. I'm just asking a question you're often too busy or apathetic to think about. But now you've at least thought about it once in your lifetime soooo, you know, progress! ☺

 

  We try to find differences in each other to further justify our lack of empathy for others, but that mentality never seems to fully hold up in the end, and eventually gets taken down through acceptance and love over time.  We are so similar in genetic make-up to a BANANA let alone an Ape! And we are ALL living here on earth aren't we? Me, you, the ape and the banana? Do apes even LIKE bananas that much or is that just what the hell we keep feeding them and they just like peeling them a lot??? 🤔...I'll look it up later. Better just keep this about people for now before I hurt my head more than I already have tonight. POINT IS: We will forever be more connected as humans than we perceive, because we are all on the same train, headed the same damn place, no matter where we're sitting onboard. 

Here's another way to look at it... 

  You don't cut your hair one strand at a time. Each follicle is it's own entity, but it's all the same thing. It's your hair. Each hair on your head is experiencing its lifespan in a different way. But to us they are all the exact same thing. No matter the age of the hair. The height. The color. Its position on your head, it is all making up the same thing. If follicles could talk, my guess is the various strands don't see that they are all making up the same experience together. It's not their call. They are not in control. They don't know when the next cut is coming. Or why. They may notice patterns. Like maybe the cuts come once every 2 weeks. Then one day it stops. Do they know you are just going for a different look? That you are growing a beard instead of shaving? That you are losing hairs through no fault of your own? No. But they adapt to whatever environment you give them. 

  That's us. We are all individual hairs, and the universe styles us, breaks us, colors us, destroys us, grows us at it pleases, and we don't know why. Because it's not for us to know...

 

  Instead of looking at people individually when they tell you their struggles, replace "he" or "she" with "this part of me", and see how quickly you become a better human being. This part of me is sick, what do I do? This part of me is grieving, how can I help? This part of me is dying, what do I need to say before it's too late, to help this part of me be at peace?

  You don't have to actively search it out necessarily, but if these issues come to your doorstep, be ready to step up, and be accountable for your role in the universe. 

  I believe this is the true golden rule. I think the golden rule got lost in translation. It shouldn't be "Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you". That implies motive. Don't just do things for someone else because that's what you are hoping to receive in return from them.  Quit treating life like a loan you are trying to collect interest on by your good deeds. The Golden Rule should be:

"Do for others. Because they ARE you."

We are all one. So it's time to tell yourself what you need to hear in life:  To love others is to truly love oneself, because there are no "others". I believe we are just one collective spark of consciousness. One brilliantly beautiful head of hair with an incredibly eclectic mix of individual strands in every shape, size, age and color imaginable. And we don't know when the universe will choose to restyle itself, but we know it's coming. Until then, the least we can do is continue to grow together.

 

(On second thought...🤔...Maybe black people CAN be hippies. 😊✌🏾❤)

 

-Alvin Williams

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 comment

  • Melody	Patrick

    Melody Patrick

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