Empathy and politics...hmmmm, please don’t stop reading because I used those words in the same sentence! HA!
When I think of the idea of America being united I think to the fall of 2001 when people, lives, and buildings were destroyed by airplanes. After 9/11, Democrats, Republicans, and everyone else worked together to form a bond that is: America. This linking of arms came because there was tragedy, loss, and an act of war committed on unprovoked Americans...on us. We laid down the burden of our differences; black, brown, white, young, old, male, female, and even if it was just for a moment, we worked together, grieved together, and loved each other.
Fifteen years later, we are already knee-deep in the mudslinging and arguing of an election year. I wonder how much more the American heart can take? I understand the need to debate, disagree, or even struggle through issues together, but I wouldn’t use the word “together” to describe us. We seem to keep getting further and further apart.
In preparation for this blog post I asked myself one question: “When is the last time I put myself in the shoes of someone I completely disagreed with?” (cricket, cricket)
Oh, the all-consuming virtue of empathy!
It’s painless for me to be empathetic when I surround myself with people who are just like me. If I can relate, understand, or agree with you then I can easily put myself in your shoes. It’s natural to want to support our circle of friends but it won’t move the mountains of hate, racism, sexism, and abuse in our world.
Wait...so I need to walk with someone I disagree with, or even, dare I say, who is my enemy? (GULP) Where do we even begin with that one? Luckily, some very wise people have gone before us.
In the words of former president Abraham Lincoln, “I don’t like that man, I must get to know him better.” WOW, but Abe, how does one embark on that humanity challenge during an election year?
One of the most beautiful things about empathy is that it can be practiced by and on any human being. You can be any gender, political party, race, religion, socioeconomic status, age, walking on the moon or on the ocean floor, and be a carrier and a receiver of empathy. Those who practice it with the “other side” have laid down the the burden of always being right in order to know and really see others. In my observations, here is how we get there:
Listen. Longer. Longer than what feels comfortable. I’ve learned the importance of listening from Jer Swigart and his work with The Global Immersion Project. He provides people of all race and religion a place to dialog for peace. Way to go Jer!! Instead of formulating the argument or changing the channel before the other side has finished speaking, make yourself stop and listen longer.
Be kind. Disagree with dignity. In dialoguing with our audience in a P2E session this summer, one woman said, “We (as Americans) think that if we disagree with someone we must then insult them. And on the flip side, if someone disagrees with us we immediately feel we have been insulted.” This way of thinking will only lead us further and further apart. Don’t insult, even if who you are speaking to is someone who isn’t playing by the same rules. If you can disagree with dignity it won’t be difficult to look in the mirror the next morning.
Find something to respect in every person. Don’t just tolerate. Maybe it’s that they are dedicated to a cause, passionate, or hard-working in their pursuit of knowledge or justice. When our focus is to disagree we blind ourselves to the respectable qualities of those opposing us. If we seek to understand we can more easily see that, whether we agree or disagree, we all have qualities that deserve respect.
Be available. Don’t avoid everyone who disagrees with you and surround yourself with only those who are on “your side”. (aka. Democrat huddles, Republican huddles, “fill in the blank” huddles.)
Be humble. Acknowledge a good point. You will probably shock ‘em with this one!
Keep in mind they probably have people somewhere who love and depend on them. It’s difficult to hate when you imagine a person is a father or mother, son or daughter.
Be empathy. After going through all these steps, use your imagination and walk in their shoes. Ask yourself why or if they are really that different than you? Emotion aside, what is something you may have in common? What are your non-negotiables? How can you convey your non-negotiables in a way that keeps the relationship in tact?
If we can practice some of these steps, you and I together can slowly change what we all see in so many places in our world. Not just politics. Who knows? Maybe someday those running for office will say phrases like:
- “I’ve made some good decisions and some bad ones. But this is what I’ve learned from my mistakes...”
- “Leading anything is difficult, but I will do my best. I’m a human just like you. I won’t be perfect, and that is where my strength lies.”
- “I really respect that my opponent did...”
- “I disagree with the stance my opponent takes on… but we can work together.”
- “I won’t lie. I won’t cheat. And if I do, I will tell you.”
What happens in Washington may seem so far removed from you and your situation but we each can move towards empathy even if those around us are not, no matter what the topic.
Finally, the only reference to a people group in The Star-Spangled Banner is a “we” statement. It’s not us or them...just we. It is imperative to remember that from now until November and beyond.
Jennicca Mabe, -P2E Founder