Our responsibility to each other

One of our previous lessons took us through Empathy and what it is, as well as the importance of empathising with others to provide this essential Psychological oxygen. We can also acknowledge that when people need empathy, it does not automatically mean they need help or advice.

Whilst empathy is necessary and plays such an important role in connecting with others, there may be times when we need to take the next step and actually make a difference in someone else’s life.

This is where the role of Social Responsibility comes into play. In a sense, social responsibility may be equated to “social empathy in action”.

Why would social responsibility be a component of EI? Is it not something that people choose to do or choose not to do? How does my emotional intelligence play out in these decisions?

Helping others, or providing for a better team, unit, community, or society, is part of our humanity, and it would be a sad day if everyone was so internally focused that others’ circumstances meant little to us. Being socially responsible may be evidenced not only through large contributions, but also through daily small actions or gestures.

We may experience different emotions when faced with situations in which others may be in need...
For example: When we hear of a fire destroying a settlement. Emotions of loss, sympathy, guilt or even anger at the situation, may arise. Many of us will rally around and provide relief in various forms.

Sometimes an emotion of irritation, impatience, or a sense of suspicion or scepticism may accompany seeing a beggar at the robot, or someone in similar need. These emotions and thoughts often inform our response. At times we assist others and at times we ignore the plight of another.

This does not mean that we should always be putting ourselves “out there”, when we may in fact be walking into a dangerous situation. We should use wisdom, discretion, and even our innate 6th sense in these kinds of situations.

It is also useful to think about our emotions and thoughts, about how others will see us if we were to step forward. Am I embarrassed to be the only one, what if I look foolish? What if I have misread the situation?

The examples above illustrate how important it is to be aware of how our emotions and beliefs may be affecting our willingness to reach out, without judgement, and to make a difference no matter how small, to the lives of those around us.

In conclusion, some of you may have heard the story told by Loren Eiseley from his book “The Star Thrower”. It is worth repeating and has been adapted for this lesson:
There was an old man who would do his writing near the ocean. He used to walk on the beach every morning before he began his work. Early one morning, he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found the vast beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching forever.

In the distance, the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often and as he grew closer, the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and throw it into the sea. As the boy came closer the man called out, “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young boy paused, looked up, and replied: “Throwing starfish into the ocean. The tide has washed them up and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”

The old man replied, “But there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach. How can you possibly make a difference to them?”

The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”
After an uncomfortable moment, the writer set aside his initial embarrassment and anger and joined the young boy in the task.

Perhaps we could use our emotional intelligence to make that difference, today!

This article is adapted from JvR Academy’s EQ Lessons programme. 
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