Empathy and the Fluidity of Right and Wrong. 

Paula Aliu
Jan 23, 2017 · 5 min read

I once went to my favorite ice cream joint. It was late and I was aware I might not get my whiskey-cream flavored ice cream. I just hoped I would, my week was far from stellar, the rate at which the Naira is free falling defies the laws of gravity. I can bet that I am faster in multiplication than a calculator once I see a Dollar or Pound exchange rate. If I can get some ice cream maybe the Naira will rise like the bread they used to give us in secondary school. Yes, I have brainwashed myself into thinking that this ice cream can move the mountain of bad luck from my life. I see only 3 scoops left plus the price has increased by 150 bucks!

“God my life!” I am making life decisions of either placing my usual order or re-evaluating my belief in the mythical powers of this said ice cream.

My Mum looks at me aghast and says, “Seriously, you are catching fever because of ice cream and people are looking for food and water to eat and drink!” (Sighs)

I am thoroughly shamed, I just had a shitty week but there are people who have had consistently, years so bad, shitty doesn't scratch the surface. I am a horrible person. I still bought ice cream although it was half my usual amount, I just could not say no.

Back in the car, my mum looked at me with kindness upon seeing that I was embarrassed and said the following words to me.

“I can imagine the want for the ice cream you feel although I might not understand your feelings fully and there are people with relatively more important needs that you might not feel or have gone through, but you can only imagine how they feel am I right?”

I nod in agreement. My companion continues.

“The sad thing about life is the pain you feel about your ice cream dilemma is more potent than the plight you imagine others must be going through. It seems selfish, but the truth is, a Feeling is much stronger than an Imagination. Another truth is, the ability to imagine aids us in putting ourselves in an others shoes and thereby, gives us the option to sacrifice to a degree something or someone that makes us feel good for the benefit of others. And that my dear is Empathy.”


Growing up and in our current lives, we all must have received lectures on the importance of knowing right and wrong. In our religious centers, our homes, schools, work places etc., we have been told, you can identify what is right and wrong. what happens after the identification phase? Often, when taught how to identify right and wrong, we are taught how to judge, make opinions, take actions. Empathy seldom comes into play after the identification process.

No person is a 100% good or a 100% bad, yes even your Priest/Pastor/Imam/Spiritual Guide. Each person has and will take several wrong actions in their lives and they will take good actions too. And sometimes, actions and choices aren't as simple as right and wrong. Sometimes judging a pot of soup requires more than your taste buds. It requires delving into how the ingredients, how they were sourced and prepared.

Often, we hear of someone being raped and common opinions shared across people are:
“He/she deserved it, look at the way he/she was dressed.”
“He/She wanted it. why would you go walking in that street at that time of the night.”
“See how tight the attire is” Does that truly mean they deserved it?

Imagine yourself in your Sunday best, you know that Suit/Dress that defines your shoulders beautifully, tapers your waist or flatters your curves and gives you that hunky male physique or that curvy female physique that all the guys and girls go gaga for. You just finished your date and you are walking home, a brooding figure likes what they see and decides to take it without asking. You tried to fight but were overpowered either physically, mentally or medically incapacitated.
It’s over you feel dirty and empty a week later you discover you have an std. You explain your story and people begin to form their opinions “How can a man be raped?” They say or “You can’t fight for your virtue?” “You wanted it. you went out with the person after all.”
“I have noticed the way you dressed you were asking for it.” Even the police judge you. You need someone to understand and believe you.

You and I might not have come across every rape scenario and not all will play out the way I described it but if we can pause and put on our empathy hats, our judgments and opinions might just help us and another person.

A final year engineering student was caught cheating in an exam. A sheet of paper with scribbles of equations and formulas was found on the student’s person. The Invigilators and fellow students were stunned. This said student was very studious, notes were always complete, asked questions in class, read and revised during the school session and towards exams. This student was the model student, what happened? The student cheated and that is wrong the rules say a guilty student should be expelled or made to repeat the year depending on the number of times the student carried out the said offense. Since it a first, repeat it is.

Now, how about we up the punishment, how about we add a mandatory counseling session once a week with the guidance counseling unit to try to find out why the student cheated. Talking to a Therapist/Counselor could help both the student and school board to learn about scenarios that would make students seek out exam malpractice and take steps to minimize or stop it all together. That is taking the right action with the guidance of empathy.

Sometimes, finding empathy for ourselves and others isn't that easy, sometimes we need someone to teach or guide us, a counselor or therapist could help us find our lost empathy hat.

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