Thursday, July 18, 2013

Empathy and the Way It Is by Mike DeCamp

To polarized America, a place dominated by hateful elections, bickering and biased news channels, and debates, arguments, and accusations related to everything from health care to race relations to praise teams…I’d like to reintroduce a word that seems to have fallen out of favor:

Empathy:  The ability to sense, feel, and understand the emotions, thoughts, and experiences of another person without having actually experienced those same emotions, thoughts, and experiences yourself.

I’ve been thinking about this word often this week in the wake of the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin tragedy and verdict.  It has been weighing on me…sitting on my heart.  But, this weight on my heart is not directly tied to that case and subsequent verdict.  Rather, it has more to do with the pain I am sensing in so many of my friends…friends from both ends of the spectrum.  And, also the expressions of despair from many other ordinary folks to whom my only connection is being a fellow member of the human race. I agree with some of them.  I disagree with others.  But, I can feel the pain from all of them.

For example, I saw some middle-aged black men being interviewed on television the other day, and they were explaining how they had to carefully explain to their sons exactly how to act…How to stand…Where to put their hands…How to speak…Where to look…WHEN (not if) they were detained by someone in authority.  While I have tried to teach my children a respect for authority, I would never have imagined a need to go into such incredible detail.  And, I am told that this is not random.  This is a common parental educational step in the black communities of America.

That example illustrates to me just how apparent it is that we just don’t understand one another.

Jesus said in Matthew 7:12, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”

It seems to me that one of the most basic things that we all want is to be understood.  We want others to LISTEN to us, and to UNDERSTAND us.  We want the empathy of those around us.  I know I do.  I’m pretty sure you do too.  If that is what we want from others, then we are obligated to give it out as well.  That is the Golden Rule!

I found an interesting line from an old Joe South song:

Walk a mile in my shoes, walk a mile in my shoes
Hey, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
Walk a mile in my shoes

And this goes well beyond the issue of race…although I do believe that the issues of race are some of the primary points in which folks do not understand one another very well at all in the United States.  This need for enhanced empathy is also found in political views, socio-economic differences, and matters of faith.  As I said, everything from healthcare to praise teams.  We are often so quick to come to our own personal conclusions and go on the attack without really considering that there may be a number of other ways to see the same set of facts and come to a different conclusion.  The key is to really LISTEN.

James 1:19My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this:  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 

So much of this reminds me of the Bruce Hornsby song from the mid-1980s:

The Way It Is

Standin' in line marking time
Waiting for the welfare dime
'Cause they can't buy a job
The man in the silk suit hurries by
As he catches the poor old lady's eyes
Just for fun he says, 'Get a job'

That's just the way it is
Some things'll never change
That's just the way it is
Ha, but don't you believe them

Said, 'Hey little boy you can't go
Where the others go
Cause you don't look like they do'
Said, 'Hey, old man how can you stand
To think that way
Did you really think about it
Before you made the rules?'
He said, 'Son

That's just the way it is
Some things'll never change
That's just the way it is'
Ha, but don't you believe them
But, don’t you believe them!!!!

Brothers and sisters, that’s not just the way it is.  At least it doesn’t have to be.  We don’t have to live with this mess.  We can change the pattern and break the cycle…at least as far as we are concerned.  And we can make a difference…if we listen…if we understand…if we exercise a bit of enhanced empathy toward one another.  If we give to others what we so desperately want from them and practice the ultimate example of the Golden Rule!

So, the next time you are feeling that urge to spout off or hurl those verbal grenades at someone’s opposing view, perhaps you could first stop…and ask them to help you understand their point of view first.

Galatians 3:28There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

1 Peter 4:8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.

1 comment:

  1. Very well said Mike. I too feel the condemnation of those who do not choose to try to understand, and those who are within our own circle of believers. Very quick to judge, to correct, and to spend endless hours justifying their viewpoint without first taking into consideration, "Am I doing this with love, or am I doing this to show that I am right?"

    A world where we are free from other people's feelings that they have the right to judge others would be a beautiful place indeed!