Put on your own oxygen mask first

Andreea Sabau, Executive News Editor

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One fateful plane ride back to Chicago changed everything. 

Some light turbulence forced my mind into an anxious spiral of increasingly irrational thoughts. As the plane jolted back and forth, my heart raced as I imagined turbulence so severe that oxygen masks dropped down from the panel above. 

In my made-up scenario, the person sitting next to me was wearing a sling that rendered her right arm immobilized. I didn’t think about my own wellbeing before reaching to assist her first. But just as I started to fumble with her oxygen mask, I felt myself losing consciousness. Before long, both of us had passed out.

From this nightmare, I realized flight attendants don’t tell us to put on our oxygen mask first before assisting others without reason: we need to satisfy our basic needs before we can help other people. 

As shown by my imagined airplane scenario, sometimes our egocentric tendencies are necessary for survival. However, I’ve noticed that some students often get carried away with these tendencies, leading to ignorant behavior that demonstrates a lack of empathy for others. Whether it’s a white student using the n-word while joking with his friends or a boy complaining that his basketball uniform is “so gay,” I’ve often felt alone in my quest to share my core values of social justice and equity with students. 

When I first noticed this lack of empathy in Glenbrook North’s halls, I reacted with anger and disbelief. The skill of empathy felt innate for me, so why weren’t others feeling it too? 

That plane ride was when it finally hit me: to feel more connected with the student body and to enact the changes I felt were necessary, I had to put my oxygen mask on before I could help anyone else. In real-life terms, I had to be more selfish, not less, by surrounding myself with people who shared my goals of equity and social justice. Without both my good and bad experiences at GBN, I never would have discovered this new state of empathy where I am patient with those who haven’t expanded their worldview to include people who differ from them. This patience has allowed me to find the good that exists within every student, making it easier to share my perspective and passions with others.

So now I hand the torch over to you. Those who have been avid readers of my columns know that I end most of my opinions with a question to inspire readers to take action: how will you demonstrate your empathy for others? 

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