If you have been following the news in the past couple of weeks, you would have probably heard about the violence that erupted in Zimbabwe following government protests. Sadly, our helper at home lost her young brother in the midst of all the violence and although I had been minutely following the news and thought that I understood and resonated with the people of Zimbabwe about the whole situation, the expression on her face when she broke the news to us showed me that I did not have a single clue about what those people were actually going through.

It is easy to feel like you understand what someone is going through when you looking in from the outside. It is easy to feel like you resonate with something when you are not experiencing it. When I was watching the news and reading articles on the internet pertaining the turmoil in Zimbabwe, in my mind I was creating a picture of the situation and placing myself there and then thinking “blimey, the situation over there must  terrible I can imagine”, and the problem was right there. Whilst I was imagining what those protesters in the streets were going through, they on the other hand were actually living it, going through it. I thought I was resonating with the people of Zimbabwe but what I was resonating with was what I thought was going on, which was the watered down imaginary version of the actual situation.

Although I understood a whole lot about the turbulence in Zimbabwe from my watching of the news and perusal of the wide range of articles, what I did not understand were the intricacies of the actual situation there, “the situation on the ground” like one would say. What I did not understand was how it felt like going to bed without knowing if your child had something to eat in jail after being arrested by the army. What I did not understand was how it felt to get news that your government wants you to start paying diaspora tax from the little that you are earning abroad or risk having your citizenship revoked. What I did not understand was how it felt like to get to a hospital and find out that you cannot have surgery because there is no equipment as a result of shortage of currency in your country. What I did not understand was how it felt to wake up one day to find that prices of fuel have been doubled and you are now paying more for fuel than any other person in the world and you have no idea how you are going to get to work or how your children are going to get to school. What I did not understand was how it felt like to go to a grocery store and find that there is no bread and milk to make breakfast for your family. What I did not understand was how it felt to have teargas cannons and bullets shot at you when you are protesting for not just your livelihood but your life. What I did not understand was how it feels like to receive news that your little brother, with his whole life in front of him, had it has been inhumanely taken from him whilst fighting for the right to have a decent life.

Empathy is defined as “the ability to understand and enter into another person’s feelings”, it is difficult if not impossible to understand precisely the feelings of another person. Unless you have super powers and can be able to immerse yourself into another person’s psyche, the fact of the matter of that the limits of our human intellect do not allow us to achieve the dictionary meaning of empathy. Yes we can get very close to understanding how the next person is feeling but like with perfection, it’s impossible to achieve absolute empathy.

There is nothing wrong with trying to understand how other people are going through. That is how we manage to maneuver around complex emotional situations, by putting ourselves in their shoes so we can try to at least get a picture of how they feeling and then employ the necessary measures which can be effective in helping them get through the particular situation whatever but one mistake we should not make is getting to think we know precisely how they are feeling or what exactly they are going through. We should always keep it at the back of our minds that what we have is not knowledge of what the person is feeling but rather a watered down abstracted idea constructed in our own heads of what the person is actually feeling.

So to our brothers and sisters in Zimbabwe, even though I do not and will never understand exactly what you are going through right now, what I know is that you are a strong people and have been through and persevered through so much worse so I urge you to channel that same spirit of fight and resistance that you have exhibited so well in the past to get through this obstacle. Stay strong sons and daughters of the soil, our thoughts are with you.