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                        Empathy and Compassion

                                                                                                        Earth Manifesto Insights

                                                                                                              Dr. Tiffany B. Twain  

                                                                                                             December 2005

Empathy and compassion are mere words, representing concepts that are full of promise, caring, and understanding.  But these words are far too shallow to adequately encompass the true depths of connectedness, conscience, potential sympathetic sensibilities, and potential vulnerabilities that all people share.  Empathy arises from the deep recognition that we all face the same uncertainties in life, including unknown amounts of pain and suffering before certain deaths.  Yet there are unfathomable differences between people's individual circumstances, emotional states, formative experiences, subjective perspectives, personal anxieties, and profound insecurities.  Our government in the past five years has striven valiantly and remorselessly to divide us rather than to unite us in empathetic compassion.

Can a comfortable wealthy person truly comprehend what it is like to have no money?  Can a person who has been well fed for his or her entire life actually imagine what it is like to starve to death? C an a person living in a mansion honestly empathize with a homeless person?

Can an American really empathize with what an Iraqi citizen feels, with his country being occupied by foreigners?  No matter how well-intentioned an occupying power might claim to be, I doubt that many Americans would be happy if the shoe was on the other foot, and Islamic idealists had come in and overthrown a tyrannical leader here, and stayed on to impose harsh marshal law and invaded people's homes and tortured prisoners and created widespread fear and suspicion and danger and shortages of energy and food and water.

Hurricane Katrina exposed the depth of poverty and inequities in modern America.  Yet cogent images fade, and business-as-usual resumes.  Other natural disasters and calamitous news stories crop up, and sharp understandings fade.  Valuable awareness slowly is forgotten with the passage of time, and partisan politics goes back to the same battle for special interest perks and privileges that is always disguised as a charade with conservatism struggling against liberality for ascendance.

Unfortunately, politics as usual has resumed in the fading wake of Katrina.  Conservatives have resumed their committed efforts to give benefits to the politically well-connected, to suspend fair wage legislation (the Davis-Bacon Act), to eviscerate protections of the environment, and to slash social programs that benefit the poor, even including child welfare programs, healthcare and student financial aid.  The opportunity to address pre-existing problems like poverty, instead of just short-term reconstruction, is evaporating.

It seems that we would be far wiser trying to make American society fairer, more sustainable and balanced, and that we should be making committed efforts to make friends around the world, rather than enemies.  We cannot really know what goes on in the hearts and minds of others, so arrogant aggression is inappropriate and foolish and presumptuous.

We cannot control our emotions.  Accept them, and accept yourself.  We can control, and we are responsible for, our behavior.  Behave well, and act responsibly.  Smile, and have some empathy.  Now that's emotional intelligence!


        Dr. Tiffany Twain