When I was a teenager I went to see a late night movie in a theater on Sainte-Catherine Ouest in Montréal. After the movie, I didn’t feel like going back to my hotel room so I decided to wander around for a few hours. I walked by a church on my way to the older part of town. I saw people in groups: lonely people like me, drunk people, happy people. I was fascinated by this big dark city at night. By how different it looked and felt.
I grew up in one of the less safe neighborhoods of Paris. Back there I knew where and when to be on my guard: mostly at night, or in the quieter spots.
In Montréal, whether it was due the adrenaline rush from the movie, or the excitement of this foreign metropolis I was roaming in, I felt more safe than I had ever felt in Paris.
A few years ago, as I told this story to a friend of mine, a sad look grew on her face. Either she interrupted me, or I stopped talking when I noticed her discomfort, I can’t remember.
She told me why such a seemingly simple story was inconceivable for her. How this reality affected her daily life, even her outlook on other people. How she, essentially, wasn’t as free I was. She told me how vulnerable she felt in situations I would have found mundane: getting in and out of her car, taking a short walk alone from point A to point B anywhere, partaking alone in conversations with unknown individuals or groups. Had I been her, there’s a good chance this moment I cherish in my life would have never happened.
I feel that these are things every man should hear from friends, mothers, sisters, lovers. I don’t mean just hear them, but listen to them. Let them ring in your head until they make you sick.
There’s something heart-stopping about listening to someone tell you the impact that discrimination has had on their life. Ideally, we should all be able to empathize with the misfortune of complete strangers, but sometimes the injustice has to hit closer to home for us to finally react.
All you need to do is reach out to human beings around you. Don’t force them to share something they don’t want. Just be there and lend a friendly ear. You don’t have to try to fix things. Odds are your probably won’t know where to begin. The truth is that there are human beings suffering from things you can’t or won’t see. Some of them are dealing with it in silence. Others understandably refuse to do that.
It’s possible you’re not the one who can do something about it. But maybe you can help empower someone else. By amplifying their voice, helping them cope, lending a hand or an ear.
It might be hard because it’s foreign to you, just as it was to me. It still is, because I don’t have to face these struggles every single day. But at least I’m aware of them.
It’s really difficult to understand that kind of suffering, at least at first. Empathy is tricky when you’re missing so many points of references but it’s not that hard. It took one evening and one patient friend to get me started, to challenge my assumptions on how half of humanity live their life.
All I had to do was start listening to her.