Why should you care about me? I’m sitting in MGC, bent over my computer. So what? You walk past me without notice. You don’t care. You’re standing in front of the stairs, waiting for a friend, flipping idly through your phone, pretending I don’t exist.
It’s something we often do: search for friends within a crowd, glazing over any unfamiliar faces. If we recognize somebody—aha! —we immediately associate them with a name, a personality and a history. If not, they’re just an indistinguishable blur.
The way we persistently overlook others sends the message that they aren’t important. When you walk past me in MGC, it’s like you have no use for me. I’m just some boy clacking away on his keyboard, right?
That’s not how a community works. Even if you and I have nothing in common, we have a real impact on one another. As AU students, we do not exist in isolation. We attend classes and events, affiliate with teams and organizations, interact interpersonally and constantly shape our campus discourse through social media. My decisions affect you, even if you don’t realize it. We are interconnected.
I’ve come to understand, however, that recognizing this interconnectedness isn’t enough.
Many of us have been taught to be fiercely independent and so we put up barriers. This makes us apathetic to those we don’t immediately perceive as important. In order to overcome these barriers, we must have empathy. We must forge links, not walls, within the AU community.
When do we start to care about somebody? We care when we see ourselves in them. Empathy means figuring out what you have in common with somebody else. Once you share this bond, you are no longer strangers. You cannot ignore somebody who reminds you of yourself.
Empathy doesn’t require you to introduce yourself to everyone you meet, searching for that thing that you may have in common. Sometimes this commonality can be as simple as both being AU students, both outside enjoying the beautiful weather, or that you’re both in a rush.
It’s essential to recognize that we are interconnected. I’m reminded of how in the movie Avatar, the Na’vi would greet each other by saying “I see you.” It shows that they acknowledge one another’s significance and complexity.
If we show apathy by deliberately overlooking one another, we demonstrate empathy when we choose to “see.” If I’m sitting in MGC, you don’t need to talk to me, smile at me or even look at me. But by “seeing” me, you acknowledge that I am an individual who is important to our community, not just a piece of scenery.
Derek Siegel is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences.