An essay by Tim Wolcott
Rancor for the ‘other’ has long been an effective tool of the Right to mobilize supporters. In their plans, empathy is to be avoided at all costs. Many adults, harboring unresolved anger and mistrust, look to strong-man saviors. Exploiting fear, these “saviors” maintain and create socio-economic stress, propelling us all to potential global destruction.
On the other hand, those people, hoping for equity and sustainability offer a significant opportunity on the Left for combating those fears. But organizing the hopeful is difficult. It requires more than living a good life - eating healthy, being kind, donating to charity. It requires shared empathy so powerful we are no longer frightened by the strong-men and are willing to take action.
Empathy, as we have pointed out many times on this blog, requires emotional development, and that is not easy to accomplish.
For much of life I have been angry - angry at injustice, angry at greed, angry at incompetence. I have felt both personally and politically marginalized. Periodically, unkind outbursts would occur, but I rationalized them with the belief that I knew better. Eventually, I realized that the self-centered child in me must not control the compassionate adult that also resides within. If I am to be the change that we need, I must feel and act with empathy.
Does the inability to empathize start with a resistance to feeling the suffering of others? Do racism and prejudice encourage this? I believe so. I also believe that festering anger diverts emotional growth away from compassion and towards simplistic, selfish behavior.
Empathy is understanding so intimate that the feelings and motives of one are readily comprehended by another. Many people feel too burdened to give space to other people’s suffering, but the irony is that when we do, we help relieve our own suffering while reducing theirs. However, the current political discourse banks on the fact that anger is more comfortable than compassion and quite able to be used to maintain status quo.