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Empathy. Let’s all give it a try, shall we? September 9, 2008

Posted by Robert in Not Political, Social Commentary.
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I respect your right to be on fire. I myself, choose not to be.

I respect your right to be on fire. I myself, choose not to be.

I’m taking a break from political commentary for a post.   I’m sure you’d be upset if the stuff wasn’t coming at you from every corner of television, the Internet, radio and ‘gasp’ printed news outlets.  But I’ve been doing quite a lot of thinking lately, and I wouldn’t be doing my URL justice if I didn’t take at least one post out of all these politically charged ramblings to speak some truth, or at least what I consider truth.

True thing the first: No matter what happens in November, a crap-ton of Americans are going to be mad.  Really mad.  Really, really mad.  Like so mad that many of them will consider (at least in empty statements uttered to equally mad friends) that they’re moving to another country because this one is broken.  People will be mad because they feel like they’ve already figured out the perfect way to run this country/planet and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.

True thing the second: Right now, you’ve inserted yourself in one of the two roles that I’ve just described.  You’ve either placed yourself in the role of the person who knows what is correct for this country, or you’ve placed yourself in the role of the person who feels the rest of the country is against you and somehow there is some confederacy stacked against you and those who agree with you.

True thing the third:  You are both those people.

Why then is it so hard for us to understand that there are other opinions out there besides our own?  Why do we seem to be completely unable to respect another persons right to disagree? Why must we fear different perspectives?

Simply put, we no longer seem to place any value on empathy.  It’s almost as if it has become a character flaw, like if you for a second try and empathize with a person or group who completely disagrees with your views, than somehow you’re betraying your beliefs.

We spend far to much time surrounding ourselves with people and things that reinforce the things that separate us.  If we’re fundamentalist Christians, we hang out with fundamentalist Christian people and attend fundamentalist Christian schools.  If we’re atheist, we spend our time surfing the internet looking for sites that reassure us that we’re on the right side of the ideology debate.  If you’re liberal, you read liberal blogs and listen to liberal pundits.  Conservative, you surround yourself with books offering unending “evidence” that can make you sleep easy at night knowing you’ve placed the correct label on yourself.

No matter what labels we choose, we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure that we come into as little contact with those who would disagree with us as possible.   But that begs the question, what is more important? Identifying yourself as a believer Or the belief?

Of course, there’s no right or wrong answer, only a right or wrong response when someone else gives a different answer.  That’s why your homework for this post is to sit, think, and acknowledge that you are both the person with all the answers and the person with all the opposite answers.  You are the liberal and the conservative.  The fundamentalist and the progressive.

That’s where the empathy comes in.  Murder, war and torture do not stem from conflicting beliefs. They stem from a cultural lack of empathy or, as I prefer to call it, extremism.  We’ve seen what the absence of empathy can do in every culture on the planet, from 9/11 to Darfur to Abu Ghraib Prison.  We’ve also been warned about this folly from every major religion and philosophy, from charity toward “the least” of your brothers to “The Golden Rule”.  These are not new ideas, they just seem to be the easiest to forget.

We must learn that to exist is to co-exist.  Or to put it another way…

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