This is Where Empathy Begins

By: Jessica Ruano, creator and director of The Ghomeshi Effect

The day after the Ghomeshi verdict came out, realizing that people might be feeling the urge to express themselves on the subject, I announced on Facebook that I was seeking interviews with people who would be willing to share their thoughts on sexual violence and the justice system. The response was overwhelming. People wanted to talk, and they were willing to talk to me.

At first I interviewed people I already knew, and they surprised me by telling me things about themselves that I didn’t already know. And some of these people I had known for years. These interviews gave us the opportunity to have a more meaningful exchange.

Very soon, I started hearing from people I didn’t know – friends of friends, complete strangers who had heard about the project – and they said: this is what happened to me. And I listened. One woman told me she hadn’t even told her husband of ten years the story of her experience with sexual violence that she was telling me.

I’m afraid to say, that I think he might say I should have known better, you know, because I like to think of him as a reasonable and a very fair guy, but I can kind of hear him say that – Interview #17

Often I would invite people, including people I was meeting for the first time, into my home: I would offer them tea and cookies, we would sit on my comfortable sofas in the living room, and we would start chatting. When the timing felt right, I would ask if I could press the record button on my computer. Some interviews lasted 20 minutes, others more than 2 hours. I always made sure we had lots of time. Some people wanted to be asked several questions, others were able to monologue for long periods without prompting. Many of them apologized for rambling, but actually that’s where the interviews got interesting. Many apologized for telling me their stories in the first place, not wanting to burden me with the details, even though I had asked.

And so in my case sexual assault was actually one of the first things I remember learning about, and I remember that – and [nervous laughter] apologies, I know this is hard to listen to probably. – Interview #4

People can be quick to judge. Especially in this age of social media when we’re all encouraged to have immediate reactions to what we see online: is your first impulse to ‘like’ something? To ‘share’ it based on the headline? To post a didactic rant in the comments section? How often do we sit and listen to another person’s story or point of view without immediately reacting, without taking time to meditate on what we’ve heard and develop a thoughtful response in return? How many of us have the privilege of granting ourselves that time?

Over the course of this project, I interviewed 40 people and spoke with many more. Some of the interviews were difficult for me because I was hearing perspectives that burdened or offended me. In any other context, I would have been tempted to argue my point of view, but here I allowed myself to play the role of the impartial listener, with my recording device as the mediator. And what I found was that if you let people speak for long enough, their musings often find equilibrium in a state of understanding not so different from our own. And that is where empathy begins.

Tickets for The Ghomeshi Effect are now on sale, and discounts of 15% are offered for group bookings of 10 or more. Recognising that finances are a barrier for some, 20 free tickets are on offer each night for those who cannot afford them. For more information e-mail marketing@theghomeshieffect.com.

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