Teaching empathy with the multiverse theory

Empathy, the ability to connect with others and understand their situation. Most people lack empathy, not because they don’t care, but because it’s hard to care. It’s hard to understand what someone is going through. It’s hard to because you’re not the one going through those difficult times.

The easiest way to teach empathy is to ask, how would you feel if you were treated that way? Or, how would you feel if that were to happen to you? The problem with this is that people don’t take it seriously enough. It feels too shallow and this is where the multiverse theory comes in.

Multiverse theory, the theory that there are multiple universes. Parallel universes similar to ours but with slight differences in the way some things turn out. Alternate universes with a completely different history or timeline.

Imagine what it would be like if you are not the current you. If you were born as someone else, if you were born into a different family or community, and you grew up differently. What would that be like?

Perhaps you had to walk 5 miles just to get water. Perhaps everyone made fun of you because you look different. Perhaps money was always a big issue in and there would always be fights about it. Or perhaps you were born into a densely packed, overcrowded farm, being fed who-knows-what every day, with no idea what’s going on or what’s going to happen. What would that be like?

This is a lot more powerful than simply asking “how would you feel if…” questions. If you can just imagine living as someone else, your ability to connect and emphatize with others would dramatically increase. But there’s a limit to this because, in the end, it’s still not you. You’re just imagining yourself in someone else’s shoe. You’re still not experiencing it as if you are the one going through all the pain, the connection can still be deepened.

Now, what if you learn to develop empathy for yourself. How would that work? Take the multiverse theory again, suppose you just narrowly avoided a car accident. How would that make you feel? Relief? Gratitude? Lucky?

Now imagine that at that moment, the universe split and there’s this parallel world where you weren’t so lucky. That you ended up in a wheelchair, or worse. How does that feel? Is the feeling of empathy much stronger now?

There are countless ways to play with this. If you accidentally dropped your mug, you might feel bad, horrible even if it was your favorite mug. But cheer up, there’s another you in a parallel universe who managed to catch their mug in time. Imagine the other you empathizing with you, and you being grateful that, in a parallel universe, your mug is still in one piece with the other you.

I’m not sure how well I’ve conveyed the idea, it felt pretty powerful in my mind but when I read what I wrote, the argument sounded very weak and insubstantial. Let me try again.

Assume that the multiverse theory is true and whenever something good or bad happens, imagine that in another parallel universe, the opposite happened. At this point, one of you will practice empathy while the other will practice gratitude. It doesn’t matter whether the multiverse theory is true or not, or whether you believe it or not. Just assume it and use it as a tool. A tool to practice both empathy and gratitude whenever something good or bad happens to you.

The basic idea is this, deep down, we are all human. We laugh, we cry, we eat, we sleep. We might all be different but that’s because we all grew up in different conditions. Don’t criticize others for what they do, because if you were living under similar circumstances, you would probably do the same. And if you understand this, empathy should come as a natural thing.