A lack of empathy

January 29, 2014 § 1 Comment

Musing about societal ills in general, and to me, a lot of them seem to come from a general lack of empathy, or sympathy – an inability to make the compassionate leap needed to see the world through another’s eyes. And it manifests in manners both great and infinitesimal, from the lack of civility in our day to day experiences (cutting each other off in traffic, rudeness on public transit, the general inability to have polite discourse and civil disagreements) to allowing other human beings to suffer when such suffering is preventable. Our unwillingness to provide health care, our inability to grasp the crises of homelessness, the inability to survive (much less thrive) on our inadequate minimum wage (as has been said elsewhere many times, no one working two jobs should ever be living in poverty, but it’s not only easily possible, it’s outright common in modern America) – how a society treats those it considers the least among itself is a mirror of how it acts at every level and every stage.

It can get exhausting, admittedly. To try and care about every outrage and every horror paraded before us saps the strength, the will. But we’re not required to be martyrs, merely decent – there are choices we can make as a society that will have positive effects beyond their simple stated goals. Universal health care does more than simply provide medical treatment, it removes the stress shame and fear of illness, the nightmare that one bad day could ruin your life and the life of your family, drowned in bills that make saving your life seem to you more costly than just letting you die. No society should force its membership, no part of it, to contemplate at what point it would be more cost effective to die rather than seek medical treatment. To alleviate that stress is to show empathy for your fellows.

This empathy is needed in all walks of life and all concerns of the state. Almost any issue, from reading about police officers beating a man to death on down comes down to this lack of empathy, this lack of believing that the other human being you’re dealing with or seeing or hearing or reading is a fellow human being. Our skill at abandoning our shared humanity is stunning, expansive, and terrifying in its consequences.


We are human, and nothing and no one human is alien to us. I hope Terence can forgive me my paraphrase here.


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