Like millions of human beings around the world, I am struggling to understand the political and spiritual climate in the United States and globally. The world seems to be very polarized, divided, and many completely lack empathy. We can pretend that the divide doesn’t exist. We can blame it on politics, religion, or the media, but it’s pretty clear that there are two sides right now. The divide has become more apparent in this historic 2016 election and continues to deepen with every day.
However, this divide is only a symptom of the disease. We are one earth. One species. We all come into the world the same way. We all bleed the same. We will all die. No matter what race, religion, creed, gender, or political affiliation, we are all human beings, first. I believe the divide we are seeing today is a result of us forgetting that simple fact, that we are all the same blood. Arguably, we are all related somewhere down the ancestry line. We are brothers and sisters, and we are failing the family as a whole.
One of the central tenets of Jesus’ teaching was to love others, and “do unto others as you would have done unto you.” This is also a core teaching of almost all major world religions including; Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even Islam. Religion, unfortunately, has failed us. It has created another label and self-identity rather than teaching us to see ourselves in others.
I could’ve been born a refugee or born into a Muslim family. I could’ve been born a black male in America. I can separate my ego, name, and physical body from my spirit and understand that I could’ve been anyone and in any situation. Just because my experience is being a white American, privileged Baptist, doesn’t mean I am superior, or in some elite group of people going to Heaven. Just because I was raised with this elite set of ideas, doesn’t make it true.
Radical Islam has been hurt by this elitism too. They think and are raised that they are the ones, they are right, and it’s their duty to God or “Allah” to shove it down the throats of the world. The killing of others by radical Islam is no different than the Christian crusades, just happening centuries later.
Still, the division persists.
How do we get rid of this division and why is it important?
Empathy is the cure and it is important because humans are suffering at the hands of our own prison of self-importance. Some of us are born with the natural gift of empathy. We can easily put ourselves in others’ shoes. It’s as natural to us as breathing. Others cannot do this.
I can easily imagine being a 14 year old girl, raped in the ghetto. I can envision the rape on some stained bare mattress in a dilapidated crack house on the state streets of Flint, Michigan. I can experience the emotions of that girl. I can feel her fear and desperation all the while feeling her self worth destroyed and spirit crushed. I can imagine the blood and pain. I can feel her suffering internally and externally.
What if she gets pregnant?
I can feel her hopelessness. I can feel her being reminded of the traumatic rape event by the fetus growing in her womb, knowing she won’t be able to provide for this child. I cry thinking of how scared she is and then she’s greeted with “Christians” at planned parenthood, waving signs calling her a killer, sinner, and whore. I can understand her choice and decision.
I can imagine being a refugee. I can feel their fear and desperation only to come to the US and be turned away. This is not what we are called to be. I can imagine the broken hearts of the mamas that just want their children to eat and merely survive. Others cannot. Others cannot put themselves in another’s shoes.
How do we inspire empathy?
How do we get them to understand that it’s up to us to treat other humans exactly the way we would want others to treat us? Begin by sharing your stories. Share your abortion stories, share your sexual assault stories, share your stories of a family member dying because of having no health care. Share your stories of rape. Share your stories of being persecuted as a member of the LGBT community. Share your attempted suicide stories. Share the stories of the suffering and keep asking them open-ended questions to make them think, such as:
What if you were a refugee?
What if you were born a Muslim?
What if you were threatened with a gun?
What if you were sexually assaulted?
What if your child had a disability?
What if you were black and your unarmed dad was just shot by a police officer?
What if you grew up in the ghetto with uneducated parents and went to a public school that has an illiteracy rate of 80%?
What if you were a person unable to experience empathy?
I would want someone to help set me free from my fear and prison of self-importance.
Keep going. Keep sharing. Keep asking these kinds of questions. Empathy is the cure.