Weekend Assignment: Empathy

In my previous post I mentioned that empathy was a very important factor in passing effective health care reform and  absolutely essential for the functioning of a fair, effective and just government, i.e. a democracy.  I also wrote that empathy is what is missing from the GOP platform.  The Republicans have never embodied or legislated one iota of empathy for those Americans who have less.  Yet, the GOP is currently pursuing support from exactly that working class that they historically have had nothing but disdain for.  Go figure.

Diane Rehm, on her show on NPR on 9/22/09, had an interview with Frans de Waal.  He is a well-known and respected zoologist whose new book, “The Age of Empathy”, makes the case for a kinder, less greedy society.  Unfortunately, I do not know how to download the podcast, but if you go to the NPR website, you can listen to the show.  De Waal’s ideas are so relevant to the problems we are faced with today.  To give you a taste of the content of that podcast (and to motivate you to listen to it) here is a brief review of his book from “The Economist”:


And some additional follow-up questions and answers from the Rehm broadcast:


Empathy is a necessity for justice and understanding.  Even in the animal kingdom, creatures show empathy toward each other.  De Waal also makes the case that in European government and society, people are much more understanding of the state’s contributions in caring for its subjects, lest one day even the wealthiest person might need those services.  Here in America, the GOP is critical of “government interference”, yet enjoy their own personal benefits of being government employees.

In response to my entry of 9/25/09 (“Who Needs Government — Besides the Politicians?”), my friends at DailyKOS have offered some comments as straightforward and blunt as possible.  “Rogneid” quipped:

If something happened to their (the Republicans’) wealth, believe me, they’d be screaming for “government interference”.  They remind me of a kid in Kindergarten with a plate of cookies that hasn’t been taught to share.

“Aniamo” wrote:

Isn’t the GOP always FOR government interference when it helps them?

The concept of sharing is precisely what is missing from our “democracy”, our capitalism, our “free” market economy and our overwhelming loyalty to the mighty buck.  Michael Moore’s new movie, “Capitalism: A Love Story”, also addresses the shortcomings of American beholdingness to money above all else.  What happened to moderation?  To where did our willingness to share disappear?  Do we have no sympathy, or at least understanding, for others who are different from us?  Where is our sense of social responsibility?

President Obama nearly got his head bitten off by Conservatives when, in the process of choosing a new Supreme Court Justice, he emphasized that he was looking for someone with empathy.  The right wingers took that word and ran with it, attaching all sorts of derogatory, racist connotations to it.  Yet they felt justified in sticking to their beliefs that a minority candidate would have more empathy toward minority issues, and that it was a very bad thing indeed.  However, their yardstick for legal decision making and justice was the status quo, i.e. the while, male.  To me, that standard is an artifice if I ever saw one.

This weekend in Washington, D. C. the National Book Festival is taking place.  Many authors are making appearances.  The children’s writer, Judy Blume, is one of those speaking there.  The Washington Post, in their “Names and Faces” column, reported today:

Judy Blume recited a letter critical of her writing, sent to her by a 10-year-old boy from Florida: “I’m too young to hear about girls’ underwear.  My Dad says you must be a Democrat.”

Preconceptions underscored by inflammatory accusations have no place in our world.  Not any more.  We are in such dire straits, economically, socially and almost any other way you could imagine, that this nonsense is just plain destructive.  Every single person needs to put themselves in another person’s shoes, even if only for a moment.

Empathy, offered or accepted, is the overriding factor in the continuation of the human race and the quality of life on this planet.  Empathy is a behavioral mechanism without which there is no social justice.  With no social justice, would you want to live on this planet?

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One Response to “Weekend Assignment: Empathy”

  1. Natalie R Says:

    I LOVE Diane Rehm and listen as much as I can.

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