We’re in an empathy crisis

Young female hand holding old female hand - Taking care of the elderly people with love

If it feels like America is deeply divided, you’re not alone.

Our President is stating provable lies in a consistent pattern.  His speech (and policies) is at times hateful and intolerant, singling out immigrants, refugees, the media, liberals, etc.

No wonder Americans are polarizing along the lines of supporting, or opposing, this President.

What’s the cause of all this?  In my opinion, it’s an utter lack of empathy.

Let’s start with the President himself. I think his behavior has fit a pretty clear pattern of purported empathy for his supporters but not for anybody else.  Empathy for 40% of Americans isn’t the same as for all.

But why are Americans susceptible to this influence? Well, we lack empathy too.

How many “coastal elites” have lived in the middle American cities that have been economically decimated by the decline of their manufacturing base?  You might be “from there” but that’s not the same as living there now.

How many “middle Americans” have lived in cities comprised of heterogeneous everything: citizens and immigrants, multiple religions, secularists, LGBT communities, ethnic foods, etc?

So what’s the solution to all this? I think it goes beyond happy talk like promising ourselves to do better in our attitudes.

Empathy is a by-product of experience. And to develop empathy you must must experience the other.

How? Travel. Live somewhere else. Sponsor an immigrant.  Visit a house of worship of another faith.

It’s so much harder to personify and judge the “others” when they’re sitting across the table from you, sharing a coffee and exhibiting decency.

Travel is my favorite vehicle to empathy. I have traveled to about 40 states and 30 countries on 4 continents.  For example, I’ve experienced the amazing warmth & hospitality of Indians and seen abject poverty and filth. In the same hour.  Talk about confronting the “other”.

You can’t judge India or any country as good or bad.  Only as different. It’s been the same experience in most every country I’ve been to; a mix of things you love and things that are different if not disagreeable.

I’ve also had people from other countries tell me about the paradox of visiting America through their eyes.  Like why we are so “gun crazy” yet sincerely friendly and optimistic. They experienced us and come away changed.  More empathy.

Morgan Spurlock deserves a lot of credit for trying to get at this issue with his series “30 Days“.  It’s well worth watching.


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