Where is Our Empathy?

Those that know me well understand that I am a person of passion and strong conviction. I try to bridle my dogmatic opinions and harness them so as to remain open to truth, the process of learning, and the notion that I am wrong on many occasions.

Feeding my own selfish appetite for progress and education as an activist for the LGBTQ community, I swallowed articles and footage of online debates to the early hours of the morning. Falling asleep with passion in my heart and rage in my body I recounted one-liners from a debate that took place in early July. As an online spectator of the debate, I practiced my responses to the biased hostess of the panel and the two members who profited from her quick ability to shut any voice of diversity down.

I could see happiness pouring from the body language from the three people on stage who thought felt as though they were winning- two conservative Christian thinkers and one powerful moderator who was too comfortable shutting down good ideas.

Waking up this morning all I could hear was my response to the bigotry and (in my mind) narrow-mindedness that I witnessed in that YouTube video.

And then after seeing three clients I stumbled upon another video, this one more tragic than any I’ve seen: the shootings, during a live televised interview, of a Virginian TV crew.

Why such hate? How is it that we can achieve such dark evil? We all can.

I can blame the moderator for publically shaming a dear friend. I can blame a theologian doctorate for derogating my fellow activist. I can blame the gun control laws. I can blame my own need for justice, the very need that had me rehearsing protection and anger all morning long.

Are the emotions that circle in my body really all that differentiated from those that swelled within the gunman?

Trump occupies our news and with him all of our personal opinions. #BlackLivesMatter saturates our walls and streams of posts. Wars and civil unrest befalls numerous countries in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

But can we really empathize with one another? Do we really watch our own internal behaviors to ensure that we aren’t part of the same machine?

I am quickly tiring from a version of empathy that can only produce a two-second thought of, “Wow, that poor soul.” It leaves me feeling detached and callous.

What would it look like if we took the time to truly understand that pain of those Black lives that matter so much? Are we truly able to image what it must feel like to feel anxious and hatred at the sight of a police officer? What it feels like to for a black school-aged boy to walk down the street with the hyperawareness and a body under surveillance that ensures he keep his hands in his pockets?

Are we able to understand or at least pretend for a moment that we have to endure the worry of finding food, shelter, and petrol to keep our gaslight ablaze because we are in a civil war over coal?

Can we find the courage to dream about the fear of living in prison because it's a crime to be gay in Uganda? The gut wrenching pain it feels to find yourself encaged, not because of what you have done with your body, but because you simply love?

Today I will stop rehearsing my script of protection and anger. I will empathize with that passionate debate hostess, because she feels like she is protecting the Christian Church; and what a noble goal. I will try my hardest to understand the lives of my Black neighbors who walk my street in fear. I will find the courage to understand the lives of those around me.

I can sit in my office with a Starbucks and a master’s degree. I can practice another dialogue of anger and ruin- for another person’s opinion and their aim. I can also sit and acknowledge that we are all hurting. That hurt echoes in the discreet moments when we plot our own comeback or ways of protecting with anger and malice.

Can we shift our hurt into camaraderie? Can we see our pain as signage that leads to true empathy that leaves us uncomfortable and confused? I sure do hope so. We need it more than ever. 

Posted on September 15, 2015 .