In February 2021, EF Academy New York held a TEDx conference on campus to talk about issues around the theme of ‘Thinking through perspectives.’ Student Diego F. gave this speech about humanity in Generation Z.
It was a rainy March evening, air thick with humidity. I sat at the kitchen table, my mum’s face was lit by the refrigerator light as she told me that she had been fighting leukemia for the past eight years.
I looked back at my childhood, and some things finally began to make sense. The years between primary school through the beginning of high school had been about the best a kid could have in a small Italian city. My family was caring and attentive, in the way that made you feel at ease and knew that you always had a place to fall. But something in the back of my brain told me to ask questions. Sometimes it was a scream, other times a soft whisper, but it was ever-present: why? As a child I wondered, why did mum quit her job as a flight attendant? That job was a crucial part of her life, she loved to travel and took me along on many of her trips…Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Chicago. Why did she cut her beautiful black curly hair? She did so as abruptly as resigning from her job. Why didn’t she look happy? As I listened to her explain her illness to me, it all made sense – a horrible kind of sense. I felt as if all the life in me had been knocked out by a truck barreling down the interstate.
And then the stillness came; after the rush that the news unavoidably gave me, I felt nothing. I spent days staring at the ceiling. The deafening silence wouldn’t stop. An endless loop of emptiness. Time went by and I didn’t notice. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months until it was early June and I was still laying in bed staring at the same crack in the paint on my bedroom wall. And just to create noise to save me from the unbearable quietness that had consumed seemingly every centimeter of my life, I started spending nights around the city with my friends, all in a frivolous attempt to run from a monster that materialized out of thin air. Spending time with them masked the pain, or rather the unbearable feeling of emptiness, but it was only wasting away time. I never talked about my mother, or how I was feeling. None of us spoke about how we were feeling, just whose house we would go to or what we were having to drink. It was this weird state of flux; I never was in true company, nor ever truly alone. The emotions that characterized me up until weeks before, were strangled by something I didn’t have before. I reached a moment where I started to be afraid of what was happening but I had no one to talk about it with.
People ask each other how they are in a nearly ritualistic way, but most of the time, we don’t want the answer. Just “good” or “fine” so we feel content about asking but don’t have to fear burdening ourselves with other people’s emotions. But I was neither good nor fine and all I truly wanted was for someone to break the silence that was eating me alive and genuinely care about how I was. Even if the answer was “confused” or “scared” or “unbearably sad”.
We live in unprecedented times as we can now connect to millions of people with the swipe of a finger, but this great technological advancement has caused us to forget about humanity. We are now icons, profiles, names on an infinite list of buttons, when in reality, we are individuals that live in a community and are capable of empathy. The ease at which we can now superficially connect has devalued us, it has devalued humanity. I dare say we are lacking true empathetic discourse. We have forgotten to engage with one another on a truly deep and compassionate level. With the world wrought with polarization and suffering a global crisis in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more imperative now than ever that we engage in empathetic dialogue and ask each other how we are doing in earnest. For if one person had sat across from me this past summer as my entire life changed in the blink of an eye, perhaps the chaos that had consumed me would settle, perhaps it wouldn’t have hurt so much. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt so alone. So I urge you, look someone in the eye, and ask them how they are, and truly want to know. Allow for a space away from your phone or computer and embrace the intricacies of the human existence as you spend time facilitating true discourse with others. Take time to care for your friends. Because you never know, just asking “how are you” could change somebody’s life.
By Diego F.
TEDx EF Academy New York