Letter: Empathy is nice, but
It's taken me 73-plus years to learn this but empathy is not all it's cracked up to be. Yes, trying to put myself in someone else's shoes is a worthwhile exercise, but in some cases if I stop there, I end up perpetuating the problem I was attempting to understand.
Take racism as an example. As a white guy I read, listen to speeches, participate in study groups, watch movies, and interact with people who have been, or are subjected to, hurtful treatment because of their skin color. I feel bad about such treatment and I empathize with what people of color have to face every day.
But as an active member of our various systems, I also realize that I'm part of what keeps systemic racism going and that if I simply empathize with those subjected to racism, I have done nothing to fix the systemic biases. It's not enough to pat myself of the back and say: "I get it." Walking off and feeling good about myself has accomplished very little.
Empathy is a stepping stone but it has limited value if it does not lead us to taking action. Regarding racism, action means first recognizing our own part in systemic racism and then taking action to bring about awareness and change. Such actions begin with taking the risk to speak out to friends, family, acquaintances, and elected officials. This can be very difficult because it requires an admission that we are part of the problem. Whether it be in our medical, policing, court, education, communication or governing systems, each of us is part of the systemic problems and each of us can help make human decency our priority. If we want to actually walk-the-talk, we must gather the courage to question and assertively challenge that which has sadly become acceptable, tolerated, and the norm.
Guilford, Feb. 4
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