What The World Needs Now Is Empathy, Sweet Empathy

Now that Romney has announced his VP choice, the Facebook posts have really started coming on strong. Whichever side they’re ‘for’, the posts seem to stem from the same place: a place called Anger. I think much of our politics (and policies) are housed here. And we know why.

An angry person is fueled by a burning energy that propels them into action, namely: to vote.

I think that this core starting point of Anger is the root of our problems in the States. We, as a community, are fueled by an emotion that is essentially destructive, prohibits change, fights logic, and resists compromise. Ever try to rationalize with a toddler having a tantrum? You can’t. That’s the problem. We’re a country of tantrum-throwing toddlers.

So. Okay. What if we DIDN’T try to rationalize anymore? What if we didn’t even try to ‘change the conversation’? What if, instead, everyone tried to change the starting point of the conversation?

What if politics were not based on FEAR but on EMPATHY.

Empathy is a skill that allows one person to sympathize with another, to imagine their life story for a moment and understand their choices. I call empathy a ‘skill’ and not an emotion. An emotion is something you feel in your gut. Empathy is a deeper understanding that is taught. This ability to imagine and connect with another’s experience can be explained, practiced, and encouraged to grow.

In my life, both writing and acting have enhanced my ability to empathize (one of the reasons I think it’s essential that we fund the arts. It makes us better people.). But why is empathy important?

Okay. Imagine instead of saying “Gays can’t marry because God says it’s wrong. Because of this, I hate gays”…What if a person instead could find a quiet place within themselves that resists judging and instead says “It must be hard to love someone so much that you want to marry them and you’re told you can’t. Love IS love, and it must hurt to be told it isn’t.”

Any debate can be reduced to a quiet center, a story whispered into hearts.

I’ve tried to do this with gun control. I can understand why people want to protect our right to ‘bear arms’.  When I go to my quiet center, I think “Okay. A right to bear arms is important and guaranteed by our Constitution. What is a compromise that honors this right, yet protects our people? Why can’t there be an over-the-counter gun, a gun that allows for hunting and is simple and can be licensed. One standard gun to honor the Constitution. Why can’t other guns be treated as prescription-only guns, that is, given to police officers and the military under special license only?”

I can imagine how desperate it must feel like to want to go to college and not be able to afford it. I can know that it must be hard for those who are wealthy to understand poverty, true poverty. I can feel how awful it must be to have to choose between buying insulin and paying a mortgage, when you are so sick you can’t work and your insurance is maxed out. I, myself, am a very hard worker, but I have no insurance. Not for lack of trying or wanting, but because my part-time work (though I work two jobs) won’t cover me. I can imagine being someone other than me.

If our politicians could practice real acts of empathy instead of playing to Anger and spouting attack ads and angry memes, maybe we could all feel a little more inspired to take care of each other, to build a community of support, instead of a nation of angry individuals.

We can start with ourselves. Before you post that Facebook picture, or send that forwarded email, ask yourself  "Does this come from a place of anger? Have I tried to consider how others feel about this issue? Am I responding from a place of kindness?"

I’m teaching my kids how to empathize. It begins with this: “Imagine how you would feel if…” and it grows from there.

Eating Dinner IN THE DARK--Blindfolded at San Chez

Kealoha and I decided to have one final date night as singles before the big wedding day…and what better way to celebrate than eating a ten-course dinner entirely in the dark? I mean, this was an obvious choice. So when San Chez sent an email saying they were having a Dinner In The Dark where guests were blindfolded and the menu was secret, Kealoha signed us up. (He’s no longer concussed so he was thinking fully when he agreed to it.)

What’s it like eating in the dark? Awkward at first, and then strangely sensual.

We sat down in the café part of San Chez and waited for the guests to arrive. What kind of people would subject themselves to eating blind? First, you have to have a pretty hefty amount of trust…and you also have to be okay with possibly looking ridiculous. About twenty or so others joined us with people from their late twenties to those daredevil baby boomers.

After waiting for some late customers (annoying. be on time.) the blindfolds came down.

You really couldn’t see. Suddenly the world became sounds and smells and touch. I told Kealoha if he wasn’t talking I wouldn’t know he was there. He put his hand on my knee. At least I think it was him.

The first course came. Every course was paired with an alcoholic beverage…and by the time we started eating we really, really wanted a drink. The server set the dish in front of us. “Okay,” she said, “it’s directly in front of you. There’s a little dish and a sauce. Enjoy.” That was all the instruction.

I gently used my fingertips to find the plate, lifted it to my lips and…then what? How did I eat it? I couldn’t see. I probed it with my fingertips and touched something silky and wet, and then some soft and cool pillow of sauce at the bottom of the dish. I wrapped my fingers around the item and put it tenderly in my mouth. (I could be writing an erotica novel right now.) It was delicious. Slightly sweet with a salty and nutty sauce. I had no idea what I was eating, but I liked it. I could tell by Kealoha’s grunts that he liked it too. Or he was doing push ups. Not sure about that.

Apparently, we were eating a Nori Salad Bouquet with Warm Soy Dressing. Lovely.

Next came bitter beer (not a fan) with a crispy bruschetta toast. The server said “It’s in front of you and is rectangular in shape. The topping is balanced on it.” Again, my fingers probed gently, I brought the bread up to my mouth and bit in. Chewy. Crunchy. Smooth. Buttery. Oh, bruschetta smeared with a warm butter. Really good butter too. Luscious. And then the acidic sweet taste of what I thought was marinated cherries. I crushed them with my tongue on the roof of my mouth. A blend and balance of sweet, salty, savory, cream. Mmm. What was it? Bone Marrow On Foccacia With Hawaiian Black Salt and Sherried Grapes.

Yes. Bone marrow. And it was good. I now understand why cave men sucked on bones and why we have the phrase “suck the marrow” of life. It’s pure decadent living…and makes a girl who sometimes swings vegetarian feel a smidge guilty.

The night wore on. It was a long time of sitting in the dark. Kealoha and I chatted about the upcoming wedding, memories, everyday stresses. A table of four women got drunk and took off their blindfolds, but everyone else stayed in the game. There were highlights of the night, and a few that weren’t as successful. One dish was cold, another warm. Some played with modern gastronomy techniques. You never knew what was coming.

The Cuban Deconstruct: Swiss Tuille, Gherkin, Pork Powder, Pickled Mustard Seeds And Atomized Mojo was a revelation. Seriously, it was like a perfect morsel of food. At once exciting, titillating, and harmonious. I’m not talking about music or sex, but I could be. Good food is like that.

And another favorite was the Sizzling Scallops. The restaurant sizzled and it sounded like rain. We caught a waft of smoke and the sea and then were presented with something balanced on a fork. I couldn’t take it in one bite, so I had to touch it. Soft, squishy, something fluffy on top. It was a perfectly cooked scallop (it dissolved in your mouth) with what tasted like caramelized brown sugar. In fact, the scalllop was topped with squid ink cotton candy. I really would’ve liked to have seen that one.

Less successful dishes included a Deep Fried Egg Yolk with Asparagus Foam and Lemon Zest. While the crunch and foaminess were texturally appealing, the dish lacked salt and flavor. The Foiley Pop was an exciting dish, but as a sometime vegetarian, it was a bit much for me. It arrived in a Ziploc bag. I fumbled with the bag to open it, revealing a puff of woodsmoke. I found the stick, and put the item in my mouth and immediately my tongue danced and popped. The gelatinous center though scared me. I imagined eating an eyeball lollipop or something, and I had to take a big drink of water. It was foi gras on a stick with sour berry pop rocks and cherry wood smoke. The people on Chopped would’ve been impressed; it just wasn’t my thing.

The evening ended around 11 and Kealoha and I were exhausted. The chefs toyed with our senses, the servers spritzed us with scents and surprised us with sounds, and Kealoha and I stumbled awkwardly through it, side by side.

Sort of a metaphor for marriage, I suppose.

Would I do this again? You bet. The evening pushed me out of my comfort zone with food and it made me aware that food is, at its best, a sensual experience. It was an adventurous night, and all we had to do was go downtown and put a blindfold on. And we got to keep our blindfolds…you know…in case we need them…for…uhm…another adventure.