Encouraging Empathy

20 years, this is my current age. Twenty feels strange because I’m stuck in between adolescence and adulthood, with nostalgia regarding childhood. With two decades under my belt, I feel I have learned and experienced so much! I have had the opportunity to visit foreign places, glimpse (a small fraction of) the world’s beauty, and meet so many interesting people. However, sometimes I step outside myself to wonder: what will it be like when I have lived thirty years? Forty? What about those who have lived 70+? Aren’t they overwhelmed by their memories and experiences? I am fortunate enough to know individuals who are seventy or older, and can only come close to answering these questions by discussing with them. Although right now I cannot fathom the mental experiences of the elderly, I can empathize with them physically with the right equipment. A week ago, our Empathic Design class had the chance to use equipment that limited our senses, mobility, and independence. I was in a group with two of my good friends, which made the exercise all the more interesting. We decided who would do each activity. I was chosen to wear the goggles, and my colleague Tristan wore the GERT suit. Our third member Alizibeth documented the experience and asked questions. I tried on and tested 6 types of goggles: cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, unilateral detachment, and retinitis pigmentosa. I have actually always wondered how it would be to have a visual impairment, so I found these goggles very interesting. It was very neat to be a part of a hands-on activity that portrayed real disabilities. I felt as though I could better understand the everyday challenges individuals with an eyesight handicap face. In addition, simply observing and assisting Tristan with the difficulties he experienced in the GERT suit helped me to empathize: both with the affected individual, and any possible caretakers he/she may have. Necessary and normal tasks were demanding of Tristan in the GERT suit. This prompts me to think of the various challenges faced for older individuals when doing things like grocery shopping, doing household chores, getting dressed, walking in public spaces, and so many more. Life presents challenges for any age. Unfortunately, at each age it seems as though a new physical/mental obstacle is presented, so we must adapt. However, we are fortunate for technology and those older (and wiser) than us to help guide the way to our future. We can use technology such as the visual impairment goggles and the GERT suit to feel what others feel and experience a preview to what may be in store for us. We can talk to those older than us to compare views, experiences, insights, and priorities. Both of these will expand our empathic horizons. And, maybe after talking with those senior to us, maybe we will find we aren’t so different after all (like Dr. Evil says in Austin Powers). There may be some challenges that trouble an expanse of ages, if not all. One every-day challenge I know many people, as well as myself, face is getting up in the morning. Is there a solution to the morning grumps? Can waking up in the morning be pleasant? The answer to both is yes. For most people, the wake-up process includes some key negative experiences such as a harsh alarm, a crunched time schedule, and unpleasantly cold temperature (compared to the warm bed-nest made from the night’s slumber). These variables and others are contributors to the “morning grumps” as I called them above. Waking up in the morning should not be a negative experience in any way. Having a good day is all about keeping a positive mindset and attitude; if we don’t start our day right, how can we expect to be productive? Luckily, last Wednesday three other empathic design students and I thought of a solution to this common conundrum: an alarm clock that accurately suits the modern human. This alarm clock would have many functions, and is more versatile because of this. However, I am confident that it would make each morning more pleasant, causing the rest of the day to be equally as pleasant, and by proxy causing the world around us to be more pleasant. This would all be due to a positive wake-up process that could include holograms, sounds, light, and even temperature all customized by the user. With this alarm clock, we can say good-bye to the “morning grumps,” and welcome with open arms a much-needed positive wake-up process. I believe this positivity is necessary to not only a nice and productive day, but a fruitful life as well. If we are constantly negative, what will that do for us? The answer is nothing. Keeping a negative attitude does nothing for us in life. In fact, just in case you’re skimming this instead of reading every sentence I’ll put it again in all-caps so that this important idea is not overlooked: A NEGATIVE ATTITUDE DOES NOTHING FOR US IN LIFE. Negativity not only limits a negative individual’s life, it affects those around them as well. Think about it this way: would you rather spend time with a) someone who radiates so much sunshine that they make you feel bright also or b) someone who has frown lines and makes you feel like you just watched a documentary about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch? Most people would choose a. Positivity is vital to us as humans. Mindset is everything. However, sometimes keeping a positive outlook can be challenging at times. Each of us have our ways of comforting ourselves (and staying sane). There is meditation, exercise, food, animals, binge watching Netflix, among the most popular options. However, what we tend to overlook are the little things during the day that can boost our mood. I thought that the consumer choices fact sheet made two excellent points regarding clothing: independence is valued, and comfort is necessary. These two statements are ones that not only apply to the lives of the elderly, but to the lives of just about every human of any age. We all have personal needs that do not diminish as we age, and these needs should not be underestimated. Like I said earlier, the elderly are a cohort that should be valued for their life experience and treated with respect. The personal needs of the elderly are no less valid than the personal needs of twenty-year-olds. The choices we make throughout the day such as what to eat, what to wear, who to spend time with, are some of those small things that really make a difference in our mood and mindset. Because it is these “little things” that make up most of our days. If our choices aren’t made independently, how can we feel comfortable? Short answer: we can’t. And if we can’t feel comfortable in our skin, this makes maintaining positivity harder, and in turn affects those around us. I am twenty, and I recognize there are issues we all face no matter what. But, I hope that my efforts at empathy and positivity will make this world a little better every day both for myself and others living in it.

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