Sunday, April 12, 2020

Empathy during a pandemic

The truth is that we are not actually "all in this together". People have the illusion that everyone is in a similar situation at the moment. In fact, we are all having different experiences of the pandemic, the lockdown, and the way we are spending our time.

In order to have real empathy, you have to understand and appreciate the differences between people and their circumstances. I think that extreme situations like this one bring out people's true personalities. Some people are expressing themselves in entitled, judgmental, and misguided or "tone deaf" ways, which shows that they don't have empathy for other people's situations. Here is how these people can learn empathy and change their attitude.

The first group that has been guilty of this sort of lack of empathy includes many wealthy and famous people who have been trying to portray themselves as having the same sort of experiences as the rest of us. They might feel as though they are just ordinary people, but their wealth gives them privileges the majority of the population doesn't share. First and foremost, wealth gives people a sense of security. They are not going to starve or end up homeless or in debt. These are very real concerns for many less privileged people, even some who until recently considered themselves middle-class professionals. Just knowing that you have enough money to last you several years (or decades) even if you never work again is something that the wealthy might not realize they take for granted.

Famous people have been trying to keep the focus on themselves in a very narcissistic way. At times like these, they don't realize that flaunting their luxury homes and exotic lifestyles is certain to alienate many people. Yes, they might be in lockdown like the rest of us, but in much more comfortable circumstances. This is not about you.

What the wealthy can do at this time is donate significant amounts of money to good causes. Vaccine research, hospital funds, any sort of charity. Those who are really empathic will do this quietly, behind the scenes, because it's not about them but about the cause they support. Do it for its own sake, not to promote yourselves!

The wealthy also have the power and influence to work behind the scenes in companies they are involved with to help employees get paid while in lockdown, prevent job losses, and apply generous procedures to staff members who are sick or have sick family members. Caring for the less fortunate is a sign of empathy.

A second example of lack of empathy is a message that has been circulating on social media and has prompted a lot of discussion. I have seen this message, with its reply, but don't know who originated it:

* Edited to add: Here is an article that brings a source for the original quotation, Jeremy Haynes, and in this photo, the response below the deleted line was written by my sister-in-law, Jill Pretorius. I have seen a few different versions with similar sentiments.

The statement "You didn't ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline" is the sort of tough-love motivational nonsense that demonstrates a lack of empathy and sensitivity and judges other people.

The response, that we are going through difficult times and it's not a competition, starts to answer the judgment, but doesn't express the response as clearly as I want to do now.

The original post's assumption is that we are in quarantine and therefore now have time to do the things we used to say we didn't have time to do.

First, not everyone is in lockdown and not everyone who is has time.

There are essential workers who are spending just as much time, if not more, working. They don't have the benefit of this extra time we are all assumed to have.

There are people who are now working from home. While this might save them some commuting time, using the unfamiliar and inefficient online platforms might end up taking just as much time and might be just as exhausting.

There are people who have lost their jobs or their freelance income. So yes, maybe they have more time, but they are likely to be looking for ways to earn some money just to survive, rather than spending time on personal development.

Many people have their children at home with them. It would be nice to imagine that the children spend their usual school hours studying online, but in reality, online learning is not equivalent to being at school and parents have to educate and entertain their children most of the time. This doesn't give them extra time.

The next assumption is that with "discipline" you can achieve what you want in any circumstances. The reality is that for most people, this is not just some free time they can use. Most people are, justifiably, worried about getting sick, about their loved ones getting sick, about being isolated from family and friends, about possibly losing their jobs or income, about the cancellation of important events they had planned, and in some cases they are experiencing strained relations with their family members or roommates as a result of the lockdown.

Discipline alone doesn't enable people to develop the right state of mind to study or set up a business. It's something we can strive for, but not something we must do in order to prove ourselves worthy. Yes, personal growth and development is an ideal, but it should never be something we force ourselves to do if it makes us feel worse as a result. There is no obligation to become more "successful" as a result of this lockdown.

The most important thing we can do right now is follow instructions and reduce the risk of getting sick or infecting other people. We have to take care of ourselves and our families. This includes being empathic and understanding, rather than entitled and judgmental.

Some will be able to take advantage of the situation to develop new skills and work on creative projects. Good for them! But don't assume that those who don't do so "lack discipline". There are many reasons why this is not the ideal time for most people to live up to these high expectations.

If you find yourself wondering why someone does or doesn't do something, think about the whole range of circumstances of that person's life rather than just assuming it's "laziness".

I hope we can all learn to practice more empathy and compassion during this time.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Being a good person during a pandemic



If the current covid-19 pandemic can teach us one thing, it's mutual co-responsibility. The human race must act together, consistently, to minimize the impact of this virus. This requires us to rethink and change some of our behaviours.

Instead of being individualists existing in competition with each other, we have to be cooperative, community-minded, and aware of the common good. Instead of letting our ego tell us we know what's best for us, we have to listen to experts and put aside our personal preferences for the sake of the good of everyone, particularly those more vulnerable than ourselves.

The pandemic will necessarily change everyone's lives, whether directly, by infecting them or people close to them, or indirectly, by changing their plans and routine. Most of us will feel the economic impact, and whole industries are already suffering.

Some objectively good results are already emerging. Less air travel and more working from home means less air pollution. Awareness of the importance of hand washing and considerate sneezing means improved public hygiene. I'm personally happy that I can now avoid shaking hands with strangers, which has sometimes left me feeling uncomfortable.

Many people have observed that self-isolation and working for home are ideal conditions for introverts, and many of us have already adopted this sort of lifestyle, to a certain extent. The social distancing that is essential now will be more difficult for extroverts and those people who see their role in life as depending on social interactions. I have been thinking of ways for everyone to take this opportunity of changing lifestyles to become better people in the ways most suited to their personality. I hope some of you find inspiration here.

First, it's important to follow the advice of experts. Think of these social distancing recommendations like traffic rules. We all have to follow the rules all the time, so that there's a consistent, predictable behaviour pattern. So work from home if you can, self-isolate if you might have been exposed, wash your hands, cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, try not to touch your face (this is difficult for everyone), and accept that you can't travel or attend large events for the next while.

There's an element of self-sacrifice in being a good person. This is displayed clearly by accepting the unwelcome changes we have to make for the good of the whole community or even the whole species.

Next, we can find ways to do good that don't involve social interaction. The best thing you can do for other people now is, paradoxically, to avoid direct in-person contact and find alternative ways of staying in touch and helping others. We are fortunate to live in a time when we can easily interact with people at a distance. We can communicate by phone, video calls, email, text, and social media. Those of us who are working from home or self-isolating can take this opportunity to be in touch with people in different ways. You're not completely isolated if you can stay in touch with people around the world.

These technologies can be used for education. Here in Israel, the universities are moving to distance teaching. But people can also teach and study informally from home. If you have a subject you are able to teach, you might be able to find people online who would love to learn from you. And spending more time at home provides a chance to find online resources to learn new things and improve yourself. Educating and improving yourself is always a good thing, and it's never too late to study.

This can also be a time to find ways to help those less fortunate. If you know about people who have lost income as a result of the changes, perhaps you could help them in some way: order them some supplies to be delivered to their home or offer other services. If you know children whose schools have closed, perhaps you could babysit while their parents work (if no isolation is required), or provide education or entertainment remotely.

Being "stuck" at home is also a good time to clean and declutter your house. You can use this time to sort things into piles for recycling and donating or resale. You can also tackle small repairs that you have been postponing. Make your home a more comfortable place where you feel better spending more time.

Some people may find it a novel experience to be spending so much time at home with partners, family members, or roommates. Use this time to get to know each other better and find ways to live and work harmoniously. Be flexible and accepting of your differences.

The guiding principle at this time should be "what can I do to make the world better for all of us?".

Finally, we should all be grateful to members of the healthcare professions and other emergency staff for doing what is necessary for those people who do become infected, at risk to themselves. These people are already doing good in the world. Thank you all!

Friday, February 28, 2020

ITA Conference 2020


This week I attended the annual conference of the Israel Translators Association, held at ZOA House in Tel Aviv.

Day 1: 24 February 2020

The conference opened with a plenary lecture by author and translator Assaf Gavron. Five of his Hebrew books have been translated into 16 languages, and he has translated 22 books from English into Hebrew. He gave us a few examples of the challenges of literary translation and issues in conveying different cultural issues. He akso noted that Hebrew is one of the only languages where books that were translated into Hebrew a few decades ago receive new translations due to the rapid changes in the language.

Next, there was a discussion group hosted by Louis Mitler, where the participants were asked to raise various challenges and solutions in the freelance translation field. The issues ranged from the changing role of the translator in an era of machine translation to accreditation, professional liability insurance, relations with agencies, and membership of translators' organizations like the ITA. It showed that translators face different challenges depending on the stage of their career, their language pairs, and their specialization.

After lunch, Avi Staiman of Academic Language Experts discussed the challenges faced by non-native speakers of English in publishing academic research. He conducted a survey to examine the specific needs of academics, which included the need for greater funding of translation and editing work and the obstacle of journals and publishers assuming that articles by non-native speakers need editing. This lecture was particularly relevant to my specialization.

Next, Yael Cahane-Shadmi spoke about the sensitive issue of conflicting values, when translators find various ethical objections to working on a particular text. Of course, translators can refuse work if they find it conflicts with their personal values, but if they accept it, they must be professional about it and do their best to translate it without letting their different perspective influence the result.

After this lecture, it was my turn to speak. My lecture was about the process of publishing an academic book. It followed a psychology book I translated from the stage of searching for a publisher, through all the additional documents necessary for the query and submission process, the translation itself, proofreading and creating the index, to the publication of the translated book. Many translators are not fully aware of these stages if they only do the translation itself.



Then, Liath Noy discussed the state of translation studies in Israel. She distinguished between studies focused on translation theory and those aimed to prepare translators for an active career. She suggested that translation studies should be more practical and more interdisciplinary, touching upon language skills, cultural differences, data mining, translation software and tools, general and specific knowledge, and business skills.

Day 2: 25 February 2020

The day started with a session by Liron Kranzler-Feldman of Academic Language Experts discussing translator-client relationships from the viewpoint of non-violent communication (NVC). We did an exercise in pairs where we shared a difficult situation with a client and went through the basic steps of observing, identifying feelings, identifying needs, and making a request for action (of the client or of ourselves). This was a useful session for many participants, and I think it's important for all professionals to think about how they communicate and how to resolve any issues without conflict.


Next, Yifat Vered spoke about working with Japanese companies, from her experience of living in Japan for ten years and then helping Israeli companies do business with Japanese companies. She explained the cultural and communication differences between Israel and Japan, and the complexities resulting from the Japanese language and its three alphabets.


Stephen Rifkind considered the customer's perspective when seeking a professional, such as a translator, in order to help us professional understand what customers are looking for. This included aspects such as pricing, website, proof of skill, and flexibility.

Then, Yael Segal gave a complementary lecture about how to reach new customers. She mentioned creating differentiation by having a narrow specialization, finding the sort of marketing that works best, and connecting to other professionals who work with the sort of clients you want.

After lunch, Dolly Baruch spoke about the translation of songs from Arabic to Hebrew. In some cases, only the tune was kept and completely new lyrics were composed. In other cases, the translation tried to be more faithful to the original. It seems that in translating songs, there has to be some compromise between various elements.

Next, Charlotte Gremmen discussed aspects of intersemiotic translation in a Hebrew graphic novel version of The Diary of Anne Frank. In addition to the linguistic translation, this version used visual elements beyond the text in order to convey the story.

Shirley Finzi Loew talked about her translation of an Italian novel that contained Sicilian dialect, and how to represent local dialects in the target language. The options are to leave out this aspect, to add notes explaining it, to use a different register, or to use dialects of the target language. The choice is on a spectrum between an acceptable translation for the target audience and an adequate translation of the source language and culture. In this case, she preferred to reflect the literary style over linguistic accuracy, and used mainly lexical means.

The conference was well-organized and enjoyable. I was happy to give a lecture 12 years after my first lecture at an ITA conference. I look forward to next year's conference.