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.