“Empathy makes you more aware of other people’s suffering, but it’s not clear it actually motivates you to take moral action or prevents you from taking immoral action.” David Brooks
At this time of the year we are quite naturally reminded to “count our blessings” – with or without anyone inspiring our consciousness to do so. In December there is a holiday for many. In order – Mawlid an Nabi, Bodhi Day, Yule, Hanukkah and Christmas. The latter, even to this non-Christian has always been a time I have enjoyed due to the enhanced mellowness that exudes from so many even during wicked rush-hour traffic in Toronto during a seasonal snowstorm, such as we experienced last week. I surmise this personal observation is true for many of you as well – Christian or otherwise.
For me this year, despite it being December, I am in a sulking disposition all too aware of the suffering of others – but is that enough to matter? The daily tragedies I am reading about and brooding over from Aleppo Syria in particular are beyond heartbreaking – they are demoralizing. I know that some will claim “Fake News” reporting is coming out of Aleppo – fine. That is all I can say of that to those holding such viewpoints. Aleppo is a chilling reminder that man’s inhumanity to man is not a relic of the past but is still dishearteningly present today and must be fought and contested whenever and wherever it is surfaces.
The story of a child dying in Santa’s arms in a Tennessee hospital now appears to be a deception and those of us who were so moved to tears are now supposed to feel bad for feeling. The very act of feeling is now unhappily to be questioned and needs authentication first before we display our emotion.
And certainly other tragedies have befallen previous Decembers, but it feels different this time around.
I am fretful about the state of the world and the United States in particular. More than anything, I am despondent about my observation of a dismissive callousness towards minority groups and individual rights and the feeling of suffering many of them / us have. I recognize these serious apprehensions from within; the LGBTQ communities, Mexican and Latino groups, Muslims, Jews, Pro-choice groups, women, African-Americans, immigrants, people representing freedom of the press, liberals, those genuinely anxious over cyber security, native Americans and more. Most ominous perhaps emanating from some quarters is a collective obliviousness over the famous passage; “First they came …” by Martin Niemoller;
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Some people who should know better seem to have forgotten.
Thankfully, many remind us of what they see as being wrong in the world. One may at times object and find disfavour with their words, but they have the bravery, determination and audience to be heard and for that I applaud them and hold immense gratitude towards them all. I am speaking of insightful writers and thinkers like; David Frum, Summer Brennan, Peter Daou and others. Then there are the more apolitical types who simply write from a universalist heart embodying their fortified truth, like Sheri Eckert (aka Dear Human) and Monique Hohnberg.
But the words of David Brooks above still bewilder me. Are we even making a difference when we have genuine empathy for the suffering and the vulnerable amongst us or far from us? Are we accomplishing anything by raising awareness of peoples suffering anywhere on this planet, whether within our respective local and national jurisdictions or abroad?
So I am not able to offer up an answer to Brooks’ quandary. My only wish is that through our societal consciousness, a resurgent attentiveness of the marginalized or perchance could be marginalized and by the inculcation of Martin Niemoller’s warning, may we all have self-awareness and mindfulness to somehow come closer to other peoples suffering – as a start, through empathy which is a fundamentally good place in which to dwell.
“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Moshin Hamid