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September 9, 2020 by  
Filed under Health, News, Opinion, Politics, Weekly Columns

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( “I feel your pain…” Bill Clinton

Whether the quote is apocryphal or not, it is one of the more memorable things Bill Clinton is reported to have said during his first run for president.  It captured his ability to make people feel that he cared about them and what was going on in their lives.  It also became fuel for the late night comedians.

We have forgotten how to empathize, walk in the other guy’s shoes.  We’re so busy trying to make our points that we don’t even listen to what is being said.  Conversations are not so much dialogs, but a series of monologs.  That’s too bad.

empathy - Empathy

See the other person

In the Nuremberg trials for Nazi war criminals, one of the psychologists noted that a complete lack of empathy allowed such atrocities to happen.  Not only the absence of the ability to see the other person, but to see them as fully human as well.  This is also the great tragedy of the slave trade and the basis for continuing racism.  Until we can see the validity in other points of view, ways of life and expressions of belief, we will continue our personal jihads against any who dare be not like us.

I guess it’s the logical consequence of a society that puts such great emphasis on the value and freedom of the individual.  This didn’t just start with the so-called “Me Generation.”  It’s structural.  English is the only language in its linguistic group, and the only one I know, where the first person singular is always capitalized.  That says something about how we think.

Two sides to every story

Ancient Africans represented the truth, or “maat”, as twins.  Inherent in this representation is the wisdom that there are two sides to every story.  That the other guy is entitled to his point of view.  We need to adopt a similar posture.  The “truth” is not always absolute.

Take a half glass of water.  Is it not just as true to say it is half empty, as to say it is half full?  Is the optimist right and the pessimist wrong?  We spend too much time arguing points of view thinking we are arguing right and wrong.  When you can see that there is more than one way to view a situation or position, you have begun to grasp the fundamentals of empathy.

You don’t give up anything when you acknowledge that there is another side.  In fact, seeing the situation from another vantage point will invariably help your own.  It will either strengthen the belief that you are right, or, horror of horrors, make you accept that your own view may have been faulty.  That you didn’t have the full picture.  After all, isn’t that what it’s supposed to be about?  “Getting to the bottom of it.”

The need to belong

We’ve got to let go of the notion that there’s only one way.  How many ways can you make seven?  This mathematical fact should be our philosophical approach as well.  Is my 5+2 better than your 4+3?  We would all agree it would be foolish to try to prove which one is more “7” than the other.  Well…

See the other person as a person, with the same motivations that you have: The need to be loved, the need to belong and yes, the need to be right.  You can enlighten each other.  Share your pieces of life’s puzzle.  Together, your pieces may make a more complete picture.  You have not lost your point of view, but have gained a deeper understanding.

Empathy is a basic part of humanity.  It enables us to form families and communities because it is based on caring.  Caring for something outside of ourselves.  It does not weaken us, it strengthens us.  It gives context, helping us to understand why someone is who they are.  In its fullest expression, it will allow you to appreciate the diverse beauty of humankind as you do the varied flowers in a garden or colors in a picture, and to add your part to the whole.

Staff Writer; Harry Sewell

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