When tears are not enough ... the difference between sympathy and empathy.

Choosing the right stone is important in Iran.
Choosing the right stone is important in Iran. | Source

First choose your stone ...

There can be few intelligent people in our world who do not know that Iran still uses stoning as a method of carrying out the death penalty. At least I hope they know ... and are outraged. This primitive practise is Iranian law and their version of justice.

But did you also know that the throwers of the stones, the executioners if you like, have to be careful to choose the right size stone otherwise they too are breaking the law?

Evidently the stone has to be big enough to be actually called 'a stone' ... but it must not be too big as that might kill the victim too quickly. It is against Article 104 of the Iranian Penal Code to choose a stone that will 'kill the convict by one or two throws'. It would appear that the object is to cause as much suffering before death as possible. Mercy is rarely an option.

The good news is that Amnesty International believe that this Neolithic form of legalised killing may however be presently under review by the Iranian authorities. Amnesty hopes that their long-standing commitment to getting this form of execution stopped may be realised as soon as next year.

(For those interested in supporting their campaign against stoning please see http://www.amnesty.org.uk/content.asp?CategoryID=12178 )

I could have included a YouTube video of an actual stoning in this hub, Heaven knows there are enough of them. I didn't because such a public and atrocious death is not something I believe should be gawped at in a spirit of prurient curiosity.

It is simply enough to imagine the terror and pain ...

Military boots ... and crutches.
Military boots ... and crutches. | Source
This photo is from 1946 ... but starving in the gutter is still with us.
This photo is from 1946 ... but starving in the gutter is still with us. | Source

Get activated ...

I realise the subject of this hub is far from the usual cute & fluffy subjects on HubPages but I make no apologies for that.

This is a call to arms, even if those arms are computers and wallets, marches and speeches. It is a call to support crusading organisations, organisations such as Amnesty and Avaaz.

These organisations exist to fight for the dispossessed and disadvantaged, the legally murdered, the victimised and for those who have lost what little power they had to defend their rights.

They are the activists, the world's defenders and the least the rest of us less-motivated individuals can do is support them in any way we can by signing their on-line petitions and these are truly effective, believe me.

We can also give small, but regular, donations. Despite currently feeling the pinch financially many of us could give a little each month.

And before the outrage starts here I'm not talking to those of you who are in danger of losing your homes, those of you who have no work.

I'm talking to those of us who still have work and homes, those of you who can afford to skip just one cappuccino a month, buy one less celebrity trivia magazine a month, buy one less burger a month.

Despite being only a modest investment in justice, such a regular donation is a godsend to these organisations as they feel they can rely on it to plan ahead on their campaigns.

So which has the most value ... sympathy or empathy?

Whilst most of us feel sympathetic towards people who endure the sometimes unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by others in our world, sympathy is a rather more limp-wristed, if entirely natural, response.

People can be easily moved to tears by starving children, beaten women, injured young soldiers. But once the images pass so does the sympathy and the sight of all that suffering is forgotten until the next round of images.

Empathy on the other hand is entirely different. It is the ability not just to understand but to also be able to share the feelings of others. It is being able to almost feel what it must be like to be buried in sand up to one's chest and wait to be stoned to death.

No-one who can empathise with these sorts of tribulations can remain inactive. Empathy burns a memory into the soul.

It is not necessary to burst into tears at the plight of others but it is necessary to stand up and be counted. As my old granny used to say, 'A little help is worth a lot of sympathy'. Those of us who empathise get stuck in.

We are the activists and it does not matter whether or not we shed tears of sympathy as long as we 'try and do something about it'.

Most of us recognise iniquity and inhumanity, even if it is the cultural norm in another country, and gradually more and more of us are willing to take action to try and eradicate, or at least limit, it.

Only unfortunate people with personality disorders such as autism, or those who have serious brain under-functioning such as psycopaths, lack the ability to be truly empathic, to put themselves in another's shoes, and that is their personal tragedy.

For the rest of us there is no such excuse.

Empathy is the only emotion, apart from righteous anger perhaps, that has made a difference in the fight against injustice and blind cruelty.

It is a powerful personal attribute to cultivate and should be constantly exercised on behalf of the less fortunate.

It is now time to take our minds out of our own little world, our own self-centred concerns and look outwards. There is a huge world out there and it is not just there for holiday trips ... the time is long overdue to recognise the rights and needs of the rest of humanity.

Make your mark, live with honour and stand up for world justice.

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Comments 28 comments

writeronline 5 years ago

This is very powerful Hub, Angie. As I read, I recognised myself, embarrassingly, as one of those who does feel empathy with the suffering of other people, particularly where that suffering and inhumane treatment is based on ridiculous ideologies that enable some, and demand others, to abdicate their humanity and basic decency in order to appease the bloodlust of some imaginary idol, and yet, I've made no effort to contribute on an ongoing basis, to the organisations that fight these injustices, and which I greatly admire.

Obviously, I put my hand in my pocket whenever a collector puts their bucket in my face, but equally obviously, that's not enough. I can't afford to give a lot, but thanks to your article, I've realised I need to make a greater effort. And I will.

Thanks for pulling me up.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Darling, thank you for such a kind comment!

I know we are not all cut out to do this stuff ... I am only capable in bursts despite the rhetoric above. It's just that every now and then something rattles my cage, like the stoning (which is most often the way women are made to pay for not wearing a veil or talking to a man or some such) and I go off on one.

Like most of us I too can afford very little, probably only a tenner a month, but what I do give is constant and sometimes I have to dodge the bucket shakers as my money is committed elsewhere.

But it costs nothing to support Avaaz and its on-line petitions and my signature may just make a difference.


Hillbilly Zen profile image

Hillbilly Zen 5 years ago from Kentucky

Fantastic Hub, Ms. Angie, and right on target. I think we're born empathetic, but to keep it we have to recognize it. So many folks don't rediscover their empathy until they're put in a difficult situation themselves. It's sad that empathy has to be defined and explained, but you've done a wonderful job and hopefully inspired someone to take a stand...any stand...and empathize. Voted up and awesome.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Angie, this is an exceptionally well written hub. Pause for thought time, I think. But what frightened me so much is when I see that money donated to good causes gets used by the administrators for their own personal luxury and what percentage that goes to the causes identified is seldom available.

This may be a small sop, but I have heard that the Ayatollahs are beginning to become less hard line and that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is likely to be voted out at the next election. But he could do a lot of damage before that day. I didn't know about the size of the stones, but read in 'The Kite Runner' about a stoning and it sickened me to the stomach.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Hillbilly ... I really appreciate your kind comments.

When I get stirred up it's hard to avoid ranting on I'm afraid but I really feel it only takes a little effort from a lot of us to make some sort of difference for the good.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hello, dearest wingman ... I know what you mean about charity admin. In fact I have a friend who uses that as an excuse for keeping all her money for herself. I don't approve needless to say. I would rather give and just hope that the Charity Commission insists on full accountability for all the charities.

I do hope Ahmadinejad's days are numbered and that censure from the West actually has some weight with the Ayatollahs but I'm doubtful. Or maybe the Arab Spring will have made them nervous of being next?

I 'saw' the Kite Runner and don't remember the stoning ... did they miss it out of the film or have I blotted it out of my mind to preserve my sanity?

Thanks as usual for commenting on my 'stuff' ... x


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

I think my memories of the stoning were taken from the book. The film glossed over it a bit, I seem to remember. I read 'The Kite Runner; a couple of years before they even made the film, and the stoning is absolutely awful; chilling. Well it would be, wouldn't it?

If you have not read Khaled Hoseinni, I can highly recommend him. 'A thousand Splendid Suns' is harrowing, beautiful, heart rending, bleak, uplifting... take your pick. It's all those and more. And although it deals with women in Afghanistan, it is a universally wonderful book.

x


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

I have heard of that book, TL, and will certainly get it, though as a rule I am unable to take much 'harrowing' these days. It can leave me soggy for weeks ... especially when it concerns the terrible injustices to women. I find the way women are treated in some countries totally inexcusable ... I can only think it is because men fear the power they have over them.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 5 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Some day I will write a hub about why I have always thought women were the intelligent, the perceptive, the cultured sex.

A belief held since round about the time when Pontius Pilate first got his Tugboat Licence.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

You know, I never realised that Pontius Pilate captained a tugboat! Well I never, you learn something everyday!


MsDora profile image

MsDora 5 years ago from The Caribbean

The message is clear. "No-one who can empathise with these sorts of tribulations can remain inactive. " Thanks for lighting this fire.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi MsDora - and thank you for your comment. It's good to have feedback, even better to know someone thinks I may have a point.


RedElf profile image

RedElf 5 years ago from Canada

Thanks so much for holding this up. Stoning is one of those barbarisms from the biblical era that most of us would like to think went out with Noah's Ark (or soon after). I agree with MsDora - tears don't do much practical good - we need to actually Do something.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Absolutely, RedElf ... it is astonishing that any country can still think that this practise is still any way to mete out justice!

Many thanks for your input ...


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 5 years ago from Orlando, FL

Thank you Angie for this heartfelt hub. You explained both sympathy and empathy perfectly. Empathy is more powerful then sympathy. I feel empathy more than I care to. I mentally place myself in the situation and I want to fix it. I want to make everything better. It doesn't always work. Voted UP!!!


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Sunshine ... I too 'want to fix things'. Once upon a time this would have been called 'interfering'.

Nowadays we should all try it when we see some of the things that are happening. Abuse to children is one time we should step in and report it. Sadly too many of us still think we may be called 'interfering' so we don't do anything. And a child dies ...

As the quote says 'All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing'.


Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

Hi Angie,

This was thought-provoking for sure and very well written. Thank you for opening my eyes and making me think about things that are/should be important to me.

Sharyn


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Sharyn - thanks for your input here.

I agree it is easy to not see what's happening out there when we all are so busy these days but anything that brings home the injustices to women really gets me riled. Hence the rantette ...


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

I am not sure how I feel about the subject matter, but you have given a whole different perspective on how to approach a travesty. I think there is certainly a place for shock value, but often, a well formed plea like yours will have more effect on people truly interested in putting their hands out to make change.

Being an American conservative, I have been tempted to watch the video of the beheading several years ago, but I know it isn't going to change my point of view - I will still hate the perpetrators. If I was a soldier, I would have gone out of my way to watch it for educational purposes and to help me remember what I would be fighting against. But as a civilian, my opinion is all that matters and I don't need to see a video or picture to help the matter out.

I don't usually give in to sensationalism and you've helped me think about why.

However, I still want to see, "The Stoning of Soraya M." It appears to be a good educational tool to understand the Middle Eastern attitudes about this practice. Any thoughts?


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Alexander - I have never been tempted to watch any of the atrocities legalised by the Middle Eastern cultures ... it would make me too vengeful as I am only human and not always the limp-wristed liberal I would at first appear to be.

My imagination is not so dulled by the constant scenes of violence and brutality that enter our homes on news items, not so puny that I cannot imagine the terror and pain as if it were my own.

I cannot watch such things as I value my sanity and know that I am only one weak and powerless person in the face of an implacable, cultural cruelty.


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

I hear you Angie, you have a big heart. I am under the impression that the film is a commentary on Middle Eastern culture. I don't often watch heartbreaking movies, so I may not get to it myself. This is part of the reason I don't watch news - there is nothing we can do about atrocities taking place in distant regions of the world except maybe, as you said in the hub, donate money.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 5 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Thanks for the 'heart' compliment, Alexander, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments.

And you are definitely right about not watching the news.

I was like you and then for some unknown reason I started to watch it again. Nuts!


Pcunix profile image

Pcunix 4 years ago from SE MA

I do have strong feelings about this, but it is the death that disturbs me, not the method. I actually think I'd rather die in the light, cursing my executioners, than while strapped down for an injection, gassing or electrocution.

Also, I'm more disturbed by the reasons than the method. That someone is punished at all for some of these "crimes" angers me.

Finally, I am continually reminded that our hands are not spotless. Injustice and cruelty exists everywhere and I have more power to affect the smaller transgressions at home than I do for these gross violations in foreign lands. That doesn't dampen my anger but it does remind me that all of it matters and I cannot let the horror of one blind me to the more petty travesties that still exist.

Thank you for a thought provoking hub.


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Thanks for taking time out to comment on this hub, Pcunix.

All unjust deaths bother me, injustice makes me burn wherever it happens.

The fact that humans revert to the Stone Age for judicial murder is just yet another disappointment with humanity ... the veneer of civilisation sits very thin in some countries.


Kiela Starcatcher profile image

Kiela Starcatcher 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

Angie, this wasn't the hub I expected, but it was excellent nonetheless. Rated up / awesome.

Because of my high level of interest in anthropology and cultural studies, I do see a lot of ethnocentric thinking (having the biased and sometimes racist belief that one's own culture is "better" than another culture). But there's a huge difference between being respectful of another group's beliefs and standing aside while people suffer inhumane treatment. Punishment by stoning, raping, torture, etc are all horrendous acts that should not be condoned in any "civilized" society.

Thank you for bringing this to light. While most of us are aware of the practice, I don't think it really occurs to people that we might be able to help do something about it.

Side note from a writer's perspective: I love your references to the "stone age" and "neolithic" punishment. Quite clever! (~_^) It does make me wonder if our stone age ancestors were so barbaric, or if they were more "civil" than some groups today! And if it wasn't a primitive custom, where did we go wrong and allow it to begin? I'm not aware of any early human remains that show this kind of behavior, but I could certainly be wrong...


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Hi Kiela ... nice of you to stop by to comment.

It is unsettling to think that I may be maligning our remote ancestors by equating their actions with what is happening today! It is just a best guess but it could be true that rocks were used as weapons and killing implements. From that it seems a logical progression to go onto slingshots using smaller stones ... and there is plenty of evidence for them.

I don't necessarily believe one nationality/culture has the moral high ground over another ... after all the USA and the UK have committed many atrocities in the past (and are possibly still committing them covertly) but there is something intrinsically repellant about using something as primitive (there I go again) as a stone to kill people in the 21st century. I just can't let it go, can I?


Kiela Starcatcher profile image

Kiela Starcatcher 4 years ago from Chicago, IL

I hope I didn't come across as accusatory. (^_^) I agree with you wholeheartedly! Here in the US, there's a car insurance company with the tag line "so easy a caveman could do it..." and is naturally promoted alongside an intelligent Neanderthal taking offense at the line. I think the tagline for your hub could be, "Stoning: so malicious even an Iranian politician could do it!" (~_^)


Angie Jardine profile image

Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... Author

Sorry, Kiela ... writing online can be confusing at times. I didn't find your comment at all accusatory ... it just set off a worrying train of thought, is all.

Looking forward to 'talking' more with you ... :)

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