The Meaning of Empathy

I’ve spent the last week traveling in both Maine and Boston, MA. During this trip, I’ve a number of conversations about what it takes to fix the inequalities that exists in America. My mind came to one word, empathy. Empathy is the primary way, and maybe the only way, for allies to help oppressed people. While empathy may be obvious to some people reading this, I never gave the word as much thought as I did this week, making this a new revelation for me. White people can’t change the color of your skin, yet, to become a black person. And while Caitlyn Jenner has recently underwent a gender transformation, I think that it is unreasonable to change one’s gender for the sake of proving or disproving a point about our patriarchal society. What can men do? What can white people do? And all the other majorities/oppressors? Empathy.

But does a lack of empathy automatically make you racist/sexist/etc.? I think not, but people who are apathetic, or indifferent, towards minorities will come off as some sort of “-ist.” One of the most intriguing conversations that I had last week was about the Baltimore riots; I didn’t really want to talk about this topic, as I already have here, but all that know me well, know that I don’t back down to challenging conversations, and in fact, I welcome them. So I welcomed the negative remarks about immoral looters once again.

The conversation wasn’t about what it takes to sever someone’s spinal cord, but was about the looters and how these people do not have any self-worth and, therefore, can be disregarded. Forget about the Hunger Games-like hunting and slaughtering of a people by the police. Forget about the fact that America has failed an entire group of people. Since they are not productive citizens who don’t “help themselves,” we shouldn’t help them. Apathy allows one to take this stance. Because of our democratic voting structure, this attitude of indifference inherently hurts minorities.

Apathy, when it comes to minorities, is a factor that separates the two major American political parties. From a social perspective, the Republican party foundation sits on critiques of big government and not interfering with people’s lives; Democrats focus on improving lives (attempting to address inequalities) by creating laws and processes. Just take a look at the words used in the 2012 national conventions for Republicans and Democrats individually.

Figure 1: 2012 Republican National Convention. Source: NYTimes (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/08/28/us/politics/convention-word-counts.html)

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Figure 2: 2012 Democratic National Convention. Source: NYTimes (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/09/04/us/politics/democratic-convention-words.html)

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Although both parties have a mission to help people, there are differences in how each party views how to address American needs. Republicans continue to win the fiscally and financially conservative votes because of their belief in free market economies, which helps businesses – who then help people. Creating jobs will always help minorities if meritocracy exist; but if one believes that meritocracy does not exist, the Republican view automatically becomes unfavorable in some ways; this is why Democrats continue to win the minority vote (women, POCs, etc.). America is divided on how we prove who’s been disadvantaged and who’s racist, even with proof through videos and expert testimony (doctors, etc.). Between women outperforming men in life now (education, career, and money) and the demographic projections in 2043, when ethnic minorities will outnumber the majority, America has significant opportunities for improvement in the area of empathy. We all often forget that the core competency of America is the multiculturalism that exists.

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