Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Our Lack of Sensitivity and Empathy for Others

Looking back, especially, on the last 30 years of public discussion, debate, and argumentation, it seems that the chief failing of most of us humans is our lack of sensitivity and empathy for others.

Of course, this is probably the chief failing of homo sapiens generally throughout history. The harsh unfair rhetoric of the bitter 1800 Presidential contest between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson comes immediately to mind. It, like many others, was filled with ad hominem, distortion, etc.

Or consider the failure of Israelis and Palestinians to empathize with each other.

But rather than dwell on the past, or even the current rash, demeaning political and social debacles in the United States and other countries around this swirling globe,
I will give one brief personal encounter from my own life.

My career consisted of trying to get thousands of 14-to-17-year-old teenagers interested in the significance of their high schools' required literature courses.

Not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination.

So, not only did I employ all the motivations, skills, and whistles that I had learned from my university classes and the methods used by the amazing teachers who had taught me, I--being of a hilarious sort by nature--also used many funny jokes, puns, and stories to help make those heavy textbook tomes as user-friendly as possible.

But a few times, I spoke before I considered all the real-world ramifications of the humorous comments I was making.

For instance, I used to tell a joke about a guy named Al Alzheimer not understanding the thematic point of a short story we were studying.

One day, a somber 9th grader on left side of the class raised her hand.

I wondered why she hadn't laughed. Most teens did.

"Mr. Wilcox, I don't think your joke about a person being named Al Alzheimer is funny. Because my dear grampa suffers from Als Alzheimers. It's very sad, not funny at all."

I felt regretful and apologized and still feel sad about my callous remark that day.

I realized when I had made that joke I wasn't being fully aware, nor sensitive. At the time I knew little about dementia and Als Alzheimers, and didn't know anyone suffering from such mental illness.

My harm wasn't intentional. But that was no excuse.

Tragically, much of the modern invective, obscene cursing, demeaning references, and false statements that pollute the media and discourse are very intentional and cruelly meant.

I don't know how to help stop such intentional harm.

In contrast, our 9th graders were taught the dangers of connotative attacks, informal fallacies, and other forms of propaganda. In debate, courtesy and respect were watchwords.

So why do Christians, Muslims, and atheists, lawyers, business leaders, political spokespersons (many of them with PhD's), and so many others fixate and obsesses on exactly those harsh forms of miscommunication? I don't know.

But my limited focus here is on those of us who inadvertently fail to empathize with others who we meet, and how we often forget to intentionally be sensitive to them.

Being sensitive and empathetic to the tired grocery clerk, the bad driver in the right lane, the harsh critic, all of the political and ideological leaders is very difficult.

It gets even harder to be empathetic and benevolent toward enemies and criminals as Martin Luther King Jr. pointed out.

Yet King spoke of how empathy for racists is very important! He emphasized that even after he was attacked by a racist during one of his speeches.

Yes, that is our calling as ethical beings-- to be aware, to be sensitive, to be emphatic,

To live in communion with others in the Light.

Daniel Wilcox

No comments: