Michael Edwards

Politics And Empathy

I believe that politics is a good word, even though we are tempted to believe it represents only the worst of our interactions as a people. But the way we live together and arrange our public life is a sacred opportunity. One that we fail at constantly but must continue trying. For without community we lose our humanity. This is why our hearts are broken to see corruption, injustice, or vicious division, oppression, inefficiencies, war….or sometimes even just mundane conflict preventing us from achieving obvious common ground work!

As I sober up a bit, figuratively speaking, I realize that most or all of my shock at this election turns out to be primarily a showing of my own personal privilege and insulation. This is the world we live in. Have lived in. And it was here before Trump was president-elect. And it will be here whenever he is gone. (I say this not to normalize or diminish in the slightest the threats and risks I see in his presidency).

Almost every ugly scenario that pops into my head is something that our nation or other nations have already done and in many cases are still doing to people. But it’s true. I was reading about the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland tonight and was breaking down in tears at even just a sterile, clinical Wikipedia description of what went on.

The election result is a bad development, but it’s part of the same badness that white people and anyone in an intersectionally privileged class have enabled by either direct action or neglect for all of human history. Of course the highlight cases are obvious: Slavery. Denying rights to women and minorities. Genocide. Even in one of our most morally justifiable military engagements like WW2 we rounded up Asians into internment camps.

It doesn’t matter that I personally do not harbor ill will to (fill in the blank), or wasn’t present for X historical examples of evils. Past is prologue and informs the current context. But the personal transformation for me is these ideas going from intellectual framework to lived reality. I can imagine and fear and put my feet into the shoes of what others have had to fear. Thus the disparity that becomes sharp to me that I am insulated and others have no choice but to face it every day in every level of their being.

It turns out this is a lesson I thought I had learned. So many times, even. But I must learn it again. Instead it is a discipline that must be constantly practiced, to immerse yourself in the pains and struggles of others, for there will come a time when I will need help for a struggle of my own. And someone being able to enter into mine and be there as support is another of our sacred opportunities as a community. To enter into with empathy not just sympathy. Not just intellectual theory. EMIC not just ETIC, in Kenneth Pike Tagmemics terms.

So, what? And so, I expect nothing, not even the tiniest of violins to be played for me for more viscerally recognizing what is in our world to be faced. No precious handling of my white male feelings. “Boohoo thanks a lot, where were you, we’ve been yelling all the time”

What can I do? Become a better ally to those who need one. Listen more. Believe those who are crushed. Who need help. Not just sink away into the escapism that is afforded to my privilege.

Any shock or discomfort I feel isn’t optional for so many others.

Let us support each other. Let us be better people, driven by compassion and empathy and intelligent and careful navigation of the significant challenges facing our nation and world.