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Fear, Division, Loathing, and the Empathy Gap

Photo by Alison Curtis

Published in ChicagoNow, October 4, 2017

Many Americans seem to have forgotten how to have empathy for others. Instead, they are filled with fear and loathing for those whose views differ from theirs. They reject civil discourse. Much like the proverbial “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” monkeys, they long to go on with their personal lives undisturbed. I haven’t seen such anger and division in our country and within families since the Vietnam protest era.

Watching the Ken Burns documentary on Vietnam takes me back to the bitter dinner table conversations that pitted relatives against one another. The slogans back then, my country, right or wrong and love it or leave it, seem to apply once again. If I want gun safety laws or support the right of others to kneel in peaceful protest of injustice or criticize @realdonaldtrump for insensitive and hurtful tweets, I am popping the bubble of others.

Puerto Rico is someone else’s problem. Just throw them some paper towels. Las Vegas deserves our thoughts and prayers but not a discussion about why one man can amass an arsenal and assault rifles to slaughter innocents. We are so politically and ideologically divided that we can’t talk rationally about anything. It’s never the right time.

In thinking about why civil discourse is so impossible, it seems like a number of people in America are like those three monkeys. The problems of others are not their responsibility. They don’t want to see them, hear about them, or talk about them. Much like our president and members of Congress who tell us this is not the right time to talk about ways to prevent the next Las Vegas, people who don’t want to have difficult conversations know that time will pass and they can go back to their busy, happy lives. The fact that others don’t have that opportunity because they have been killed in a mass shooting or because they face discrimination as people of color or because they live in poverty or because they lack access to good healthcare or because they have special needs and disabilities – well, that’s too bad but it’s not their problem.

Well, I hate to burst your bubble, folks, but you are one natural disaster, one job loss, one act of random violence, one health crisis, one car accident away from the things you don’t want to see, hear, or speak about right now. Wouldn’t it be better to come together and try to have rational conversations about the real problems that are oppressing your fellow Americans? A little empathy would go a long way to creating a more kind and caring country.

The way things stand now, our divider-in-chief was right when he proclaimed, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Instead of allowing him to divide us into warring camps, let’s come together and have civil conversations with one another to seek solutions rather than perpetuating the fear and division dominating our country.

No matter how many blessings I have in my life, I feel the pain and suffering of others. That and the climate of hatred and intolerance between Americans right now are what keep me up at night. I’m so woke I can’t sleep.


by Laurie Levy
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