We humans are a competitive bunch. From time immemorial we’ve found every reason known to man to beat and bludgeon each other in the name of tribes, regions, countries, religions, even political parties, and we don’t seem the least bit inclined to stop. It’s somehow burned into our DNA to set up stakes and draw lines meant to keep us separate and superior, except, of course, when imperialism raises its uppity head and pushes one group beyond the lines of another to prove “survival of the fittest.” This may have worked for the Huns, it had much to do with the assemblage now known as the United States, but when it comes to contemporary culture and the discourse between human beings currently inhabiting our planet, all this line-drawing, head-bludgeoning, chest-puffing aggrandizement is literally beating the hell out of us.
I’m not just talking about the combatants in the Middle East, tribal Africa, Communist China or drug-lorded Mexico. I’m talking about the more mundane crowd right here in our own back yards: the cable pundits, Tea Partiers, talk radio shouters, neighborhood politicians, party opinion leaders, religious zealots, and Americans who seem to think some are more “real” than others. It’s an eclectic group that’s narrowly focused, blindly competitive and deeply bereft of empathy.
Empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize and share feelings that are being experienced by another person, a necessary component to the ability to feel compassion. Empathy and compassion… they may not be the only things that there’s just too little of, but they’re surely at the top of the list.
For a moment, let’s focus on the more personal aspect of human relations, those exchanges and reactions that exist between people. One on one. The way we treat each other. The way we consider (or don’t) each other’s viewpoints. The way we fight our battles, leave our comments, debate our issues, get our points across. In our hyper-competitive society, where we are groomed from day one to “be the best,” “knock the opponent down,” “win the prize,” “be right,” “get to the top,” often at the expense of anyone or anything in our way, the capacity for empathy is highly devalued. Boys who exhibit it are considered pussies. Girls who exude too much are relegated to the girl-track, not tough enough to compete with the boys. Woman with empathy have lots of friends and run a hell of a PTA but don’t expect anyone to nominate them for Chairman of the Board. Men… well, men aren’t even supposed to consider empathy a part of their emotional palette, much less feel it. It’s an emotion not particularly admired in these contentious times, and we, as a society, are suffering for its lack.
There are those who think anyone in need of compassion or help is a freeloader, those who call a government that feels some obligation to its needy socialist, and those who think anyone who is different in any way, shape, form, color, creed, belief system or political party is simply wrong, less. Less of a “real American.” Less of a patriot. Less of a God-fearer.
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