December 2, 2015

The Problem with Progress: Empathy as the Missing Link.


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I feel empathy for Parisians and their feelings of fear and unease from the overwhelming threat to their safety.

I feel empathy for Beiruters and Nigerians who are enduring equal degrees of pain, anger and disruption as Parisians, but with less worldwide media acknowledgment.

I feel empathy for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, who have no country they can call their own, no community left, no home and nowhere safe to lay their heads each night.

I feel empathy for the students of Yale, the University of Missouri, Ithaca and many other colleges who, due to deep and penetrating institutional racism, not only feel less than an equal part of the whole, but also like they have no safe place to call their own.

I feel empathy for the Yale professor who wrote that political correctness was crushing the strength of our character built on critical thinking and reason.

I feel empathy for the University of Texas Palestinian student whose grandfather was killed and who feels threatened by far-reaching institutionalized US-Israeli relations.

I feel empathy for the Israeli professor threatened by an angry student Palestinian cohort seeking fair representation, justice and restitution.

I feel empathy for Muslims who are raised to love, not hate, and who struggle to secure a global understanding of their culture and way of life in a threatening world that typecasts, distrusts, denounces, and violates them.

I feel empathy for African Americans who collectively feel more and more oppressed as institutional racism and economic pressures cripple their hopes at a fair and equal chance at happiness and joy in their lives and the lives of their children.

I feel empathy for Hispanic Americans who put their heads down and work hard to make ends meet in a new home and country that is antagonistic to immigration and any person of color.

I feel empathy for women who are trying to find their rightful place in a deeply ingrained patriarchal culture that is far too slow in transitioning to a more balanced and egalitarian system.

I feel empathy for all those who are marginalized and threatened because of race and gender and class, and who begin their lives already several steps behind on the ladder.

I feel empathy for the dying dominant male Caucasian class, who feel threatened by the gradual erosion of a long standing dominant western world view that they have benefitted tremendously from, and who struggle to gracefully adjust to massive global shifts in identity.

I feel empathy for all those who feel they are victims in some way—of brutality, bullying, coercion, intimidation, domination and discrimination, of mind or body, whether it be in the real physical world or, more and more, the digital and virtual world.

I feel empathy for young people today who are seeking a path forward, an identity, and a hopeful future, amidst mass loneliness, dissociation, mediation, climate compromise and global economic uncertainty.

I feel empathy for conservatives who feel their country, core values and institutions are being dangerously threatened by a lack of morality, purity, loyalty and responsibility.

I feel empathy for liberals who feel their outlook is the more fair, humane, compassionate and righteous one, but are living in a world of unchecked injustice and inequality.

And yes, I even feel empathy for the hapless ISIS recruits who have drifted from the communities that failed them, in search of meaning and self-worth, who are brainwashed to hate and kill.

Perhaps, with more empathy, we can begin to meet in the middle, with more understanding and love, by seeing the world through the eyes of the person across the table from us. More often than not, with globalization and a “flattening” world, that person will not look like us, think like us, or believe in and value the same things that we do. But through a show of empathy, we might emerge as a healthier, happier and less violent global community.

I empathize because I don’t know any better way to make it through this messy grand experiment called progress.



The Problem with Selective Humanity: To Those Who Question our Empathy for Paris.


Author: Marty McDonald

Editor: Caitlin Oriel

Image: Public Domain/Pixabay

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