The Illusion That People in Power Disguise as Empathy

Artwork featured by Owen James

It’s always fascinated me how the concept of relatability can fool anyone into thinking someone understands them when in reality— they don’t.

Setting aside the distinct differences that clearly set people of higher authority and you apart— such as financial circumstances, for example. It intrigued me how government officials could make lower and middle-class people feel like they empathized with their struggles (maybe some of them do). We never really know anyone’s upbringing so it is impossible to assume.

Maybe they have been there before— we can’t really say that they’re just pretending to care. But with the way they choose to supposedly acknowledge other people’s struggles instead of helping them emerge from them, they exploit it to gain more political advantage.

There’s this word that I find absolutely fascinating called a demagogue, first coined in Ancient Greece, derived from the Greek word dēmagōgos, demos meaning ‘the people’ and agogos meaning ‘leading’ it also translates to a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than using rational argument.

At the start, the word meant no harmful connotations, but as the years have progressed, it has been used in very negative contexts to describe incompetent political leaders. Upon reading the meaning of the word, you’re probably thinking to yourself, what’s wrong with a leader that empathizes with the struggles of their people? Isn’t that what we all want from someone who leads an institution slash nation?

However, things that may seem harmless at first could go knee-deep in a much more detrimental implication once it all boils down to how one can exploit it for their own personal gain.

This is why manipulation exists, and although manipulation is known to be a harmful strategy to either isolate, belittle and dehumanize someone for said manipulator’s own twisted advantage, manipulation also works in ways that are first initiated by appealing to a person’s greatest weakness and desire.

Considering you won’t know how to bring someone down without knowing how to uplift them first, in the same sense that you can’t necessarily indulge in the anticipated sunshine without going through the darkness.

Figuring out what makes a person complete is someone’s stepping stone to knowing how to break them apart as well. It all may seem to stem from good intentions, but you can’t lure someone in by pushing them away.

For the push won’t be just as strong and the landing won’t hurt just as much if you don’t uplift the person first, and in order to do that, the only way one will be able to revel in a person’s suffering is to know what stimulates them.

What makes them happy, what motivates them, and what they long for. Studying these visceral aspects means creating your own blueprint of how to use their own weaknesses against them.

Political leaders know this technique better than anyone— they wouldn’t have achieved such a powerful position if they didn’t know how to appeal to the masses, now would they? They have trained themselves to be knowledgeable about these types of things.

That’s why we can’t necessarily blame the people who fall for them, because quite frankly, though one’s intentions are transparent to one person— to the other it isn’t.

Sometimes, these individuals know their target demographic. They know the type of crowd who will be capable of advancing them towards the pedestal that they so desperately crave.

That’s why the people they’ve fooled aren’t at fault here, it’s because they were poisoned. And yes, you can say that at the start, these people already have akin principles and moralities similar to those that they look up to. 

But in the end, it all boils down to how these political figures choose to exploit those principles and beliefs for their own personal gain much more so than it is for the people.

They know what makes them tick. One of the many examples I wanna use to illustrate my point here is by using the president of my own country, also known as Rodrigo Duterte.

A very controversial personality, this man. I live in the Philippines and I’d be lying if I said this country was bursting with sunshine and rainbows, because the truth is— it isn’t.

We’re a very corrupt country, and it’s because the people who run our country are also deeply corrupt and only think about themselves. Which you know, isn’t a great characteristic to possess if your entire career revolves around making the lives of a community better.

With our government stealing billions and billions of money from our health care department as well as our department of education excusing their incompetence of providing modules during the pandemic, due to a lack of funds, when they were perfectly capable of purchasing ham and cheese for their annual Christmas party that was worth 4.2 million pesos.

And that’s only describing a fraction of what happens here.

I’m not even going to delve deep into the crimes that were committed by our own justice system and how our President dismisses it because he himself favors what his own people do — reinforcing violence in the face of violence and suffering. I’d be here lecturing you for at least 15 more hours if I do that, so I’m not even going to try.

But that’s basically the gist of it, and you’d think that as this happens the entire nation would be completely opposed to what our government officials are doing, right? But sadly, not everyone thinks that way. There are, of course, people who favor what our government officials are doing and choose to celebrate it just to spite the people who don’t.

You must be wondering to yourself, why? Why are there people who are against it and those who are not? Why are there people who, despite being faced with the sight of immense difficulty, discrimination, offense, and brutality, still choose to support it?

Even if you show them the statistics, the numbers, and the repercussions of their actions, they still choose to support what will inevitably lead them to their own demise as well.


Because these people are exploited.

Their hatred and opposition towards reform and progress are being used against them by the same people they look up to and defend. What they disguise as empathy winds up being exploitation, disguised as a deep understanding of the struggles that you face.

They will use this as bait, tie it around their fishing hooks and lure you in, entrap you, put you in a box and let you stay there, boiling up all this repressed rage and indignation until it’s finally hit its peak that will burn everyone, including you.

They will appeal to your prejudices and insecurities and cement you into the same mindset you’ve fostered since the beginning of time. They will catapult their way up to the top, use your battles against you so they could win the war all on their own and roam freely upon the corpses they’ve used not only as shields — but also as weapons.

Again, one of the many distinct factors that come into play here is romanticizing the difficulties that you’ve faced, and let me just say— if someone goes out of their way to tell you that they are just looking out for your well-being, as well as the best interest of others, they would not allow themselves to see you in the same place all your life, tormented with the same cards that you’ve already dealt with.

That is not empathy. Empathy is being able to acknowledge and resonate with the internalized issues that brew inside a person that gradually manifests themselves into the real world that will harm not only you but others as well. 

Acknowledging that and doing something about it so you won’t have to deal with it anymore is what empathy truly is. Making sure you know that you are not alone and reminding yourself that this is not permanent through the people who have gone through the same thing.

That you will not remain in pain.

What is not empathy is choosing to acknowledge the issue but not doing anything about it. Milking other people’s trauma and hurt is not empathy but rather; false vindication.

Yes, they can say that they understand you, they can say that they’ll take action to resolve the problem. But if the outcome isn’t any different from what was already known, and you just feel a quiet sense of superiority over how your struggles are being normalized, that is not what empathy is.

You are being exploited so that the people at the top can remain in their positions whilst doing the bare minimum. That’s why so many inhumane laws are still not being dismissed until today.

That’s why we allow these government officials to do as they please despite society crumbling before them. Because it doesn’t necessarily affect them as long as they’re still sitting pretty in their thrones, as long as you’re in the same circumstances you’ve always dealt with, but less glamorous. But they’ll praise you for surviving it.

At how you’ve emerged from the ashes like a phoenix, they’ll applaud you for being strong instead of realizing that yes, what you went through is messed up and that they’ll make sure the future generations that come after you will never experience that.

But they don’t do it. They romanticize your pain in order to not take accountability for their own actions. One of the few instances I want to use to highlight this predicament is the recurring trend here in my country when it comes to the people who live in the province, as opposed to those who live in the city. 

Anytime a certain mishap arises to the people who live in the city — such as being laid off in the corporations and industries that they work in, you can pretty much expect the people who live in the province will either celebrate it and or downplay it.

And it’s all because our president used to live in the province himself. One of the most defining factors that take a huge role in this debate is because those who live in the province have always felt inferior to those who live in the city.

They have been mocked for their lack of education and knowledge towards systematic issues that happen in contrast to those who live in the city —who are aware. In the end, they detest those who live in the city for knowing what they don’t and having what they don’t have instead of blaming the people who could’ve provided them with the same types of resources.

This is why, at the end of the day, I can’t bring myself to detest these people because they are still victims. They have been dehumanized enough in ways that either make them feel horrible about themselves or empowers them but in very unhealthy ways.

You also can’t say it’s that easy for them to reach out and educate themselves all on their own because, how are they gonna do that when they aren’t provided with the appropriate types of resources? This is why those who are granted these resources aren’t necessarily saints either because they are perpetuating the idea that it’s just that easy to know things.

But it’s not, and the reason why it’s not is that the people in power aren’t doing enough to change that, and we need to encourage them to do something about it, those who have all the more suitable resources that will help these people, but are doing nothing of the sort.

They instead choose to push this agenda of Anti-Intellectualism so there’s a division that barricades these two groups of people, and it’ll continue until one of them outweighs the other group and they completely crash and almost become non-existent.

That is so wrong, on multiple levels because you are not raising awareness, and neither are you doing anything to take action and to make a difference, you’re capitalizing out of people’s struggles so that your pockets can remain filled whilst every aspect of their lives remain empty, and the reason why they choose to dismiss those who support the democratic party is that they know those people won’t allow this type of behavior anymore once they’re pushed off their pedestals.

They wanna continue feeling in control and powerful whilst looking down on the people that are fighting for their breaths, continuing this battle in order to achieve a brighter future ahead. But that won’t happen as long as they keep focusing on the darkness and nothing else.

In the end, it all boils down to the fear of confronting that you were taken advantage of. To not want to face the possibility that the cards that you were dealt with could’ve been prevented because there’s always that slither of shame that courses through you, preventing you from speaking up about it because you still want to preserve the littlest bit of dignity you have left.

And because you’ve earned what you had fought for, but in exchange for what you’ve gotten was years and years of labor and wasted possibilities of having it easier.

That’s why there are people who are opposed to the idea of a new generation fighting for things that can reduce the exertion and exploitation of employees and students. Not because they think this new generation of individuals are lazy, but because they don’t want to face the facts that if they weren’t so complicit to those of higher authority, they could’ve avoided the long-winded sprint that earned them that rusting medal that they still boast about until today.

And that needs to stop, the exploitation and romanticization of your suffering because you don’t wanna see others prosper— because you weren’t able to have it. You applaud people who choose to lend so-called empathy to what you’ve gone through but can’t have in it yourself to lend the same type of gesture back— because you want to be coddled and validated instead.

Validated for the pain that doesn’t have to define who you are as a person.  

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Afiya says:

    This is a great read! You pointed out several things that actually makes sense to me now after reading this article. I really love reading every piece you write here. Keep writing!


  2. Afiya says:

    This is a great read! You’ve pointed out several things that actually make sense to me now after reading this article. I really love reading every piece you write here. Keep writing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah B. says:

      Aww, thank you so much! That means a lot to be honest and I’m glad you enjoy my writing, your kind words are gladly appreciated.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Teddy says:

    The fact that during the first half of reading the article I could relate it to present day events where I live just shows how important of an issue this is, and how this is a tactic that is used by so many facist govts all over the world. It’s sad really but it’s such an important read! It’s a great article Sarah I can tell you’re passionate about writing this because it shows.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah B. says:

      Thank you so much, Teddy! Your sweet words mean a lot and I’m glad you like the article ❤️


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s