I have been thinking a lot about empathy. On my thought journey, I’ve read two books by Simon Baron-Cohen, who has researched empathy and presented many ideas about it (see my blog post The Empathy Spectrum, from August 6).
Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings of another person. Empathy is a vital skill in human interactions, but especially in a world where humans are getting crowded closer and closer together. When we fail to see others as having feelings, just like we do, it becomes easy to judge and dismiss them. This can be applied to any social justice issue––the wealth gap, immigration, mass incarceration, women’s health care, global warming. White Supremacy is an extreme example, where people feel threatened enough to justify killing The Other in order to maintain their own world view.
It seems to me that empathy is what is missing in most of our public discourse. I was watching the primary debates last week when I heard Corey Booker actually call out our Empathy Crisis. This idea quickly got swept under the rug in the flurry of debate on stage, but I was glad to at least hear it spoken aloud.
This week I also attended a Progressive Messaging workshop, and was reminded of the values I uphold: investment in the common good, decency and dignity, equity and opportunity, empathy and social justice, public support for private success, interdependence and inclusiveness.
Bringing politics into my blog might be frowned upon by some. But in an authentic life, it is not possible to separate the two. I cannot be in touch with my spiritual life and hate on people. I need to avoid the traditional hierarchical thinking of the West, where someone is better than someone else, where there are always winners and losers, where someone is always right and someone else wrong. My spiritual practice asks me to see everything as connected, where what happens to one thing in the web affects everything else in the web. This is only possible when I am able see the light in each person. Isn’t that what compassion is?
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