I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of empathy in this divisive, angry, mournful, moment of our history.
This is what I understand about empathy-Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s feelings, usually by means of a shared experience or a deep connection. It is a profound emotion that can be felt and expressed through perception and compassion.
Empathy is sacrifice- it is enduring a mask over your mouth and nose on a hot summer day.
Empathy is love-comforting a crying child, reassuring a frightened friend, giving hope to a devastated stranger.
Empathy is sadness shared, and the way we recognize it.
It is frustration felt, and calmed.
Empathy enables us to take action to prevent further loss. Empathy empowers us to speak out against injustices. Empathy brings people together under one flag. And it permits us to share the best of ourselves under many flags.
Empathy is not weakness.
Empathy is strength.
Empathy is perseverance.
Empathy moves mountains.
In the last six months our country has grieved horrible losses. We have lost jobs, homes, a way of life. We have lost loved ones to cancer, heart disease, suicide, violence, a deadly virus, and a host of other human tragedies -more than our usual share. Rather than turn to one another in comfort, it feels as if we’ve skipped the shared sadness and gone directly to anger. Every human tragedy is becoming a political headline, with blame attached to the opposing party.
Anger is so much easier to express than grief. Blame is easiest to place when it’s passed on to someone else.
Empathy is angst, and the courage to express it responsibly in peaceful protest.
By all accounts we are coming undone. Rather than share in our collective grief, we have chosen instead to unravel the strongest of threads that bind us together-the thread of empathy.
We need leadership that speaks to the best parts of us, and will help us find that thread again.
We need a leader who can recognize the limitations of fear and anger. Rather than manipulating us to suspect diversity, place conspiracy theories ahead of scientific facts, and support policies and laws that upset the balance of equal justice; we need a leader who unites us under equality, and a shared faith in what we can achieve as a nation.
I admit I was initially disheartened by the result of the Democratic Primary. Joe Biden was not my first choice. He was, in fact, pretty far down my list of choices as the Democratic candidate for President. But I knew the future of our country was at stake-I kept an open mind (remember that concept, it will come in handy down the road). I’m glad I did, because I discovered some important facts about Joseph Robinette Biden Jr.
For me it wasn’t enough that he was Vice President in an administration that lead us out of a devastating recession, and gave us the Affordable Care Act. It wasn’t enough that he is a liberal, center left politician, who has advocated for societal issues near and dear to my bleeding heart. It wasn’t even enough that he helped author the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.
The one thing that finally won me over? -you guessed it(and not just cuz I obviously lead you there)-his capacity for empathy.
Joe Biden has known tremendous loss. He lost his first wife, Neilia, and one year old daughter, Naomi, to an auto accident in 1972. His oldest son, Joseph R “Beau” Biden III, succumbed to a brain tumor in 2015.
Joe Biden knows the burden of financial hardship. His family lived with his maternal grandparents for several years while his father struggled to find steady work.
He also knows personal struggle. The kind of frustration that a speech impediment brings. He has overcome a stutter that plagued him throughout his childhood and early twenties. He keeps it at bay by reciting poetry in front of a mirror.
Whether he is speaking to a reporter, being interviewed by a journalist, speaking one on one with a constituent, or even giving a speech in front of thousands, his sincerity shines through. His capacity for empathy is great.
I don’t think that Donald Trump has ever known true heartbreaking loss. His values are defined by money and power. Yes he’s lost millions of dollars, but there were millions more where that came from.
I’ve watched Donald Trump speak about winners and losers, as if that is the way to define ones character. I’ve seen him speak to our fears, over and over again. But I’ve never heard him speak a sincere word of comfort. He has never tried to unite us in any way. Instead he stokes fear and anger, hatred and suspicion at every turn. It is difficult to know what human emotions truly motivate Trump. He has been caught in lie after lie after lie.
Joe Biden is not perfect, he is flawed. He doesn’t pretend to be someone he is not. He doesn’t try to convince us of untruths about himself by repeating them over and over again. His words don’t always come easy, and he honors their weight with truth.
I know that it will take more than empathy to unite us in strength and set us on a course of national healing. But I feel that it is a vital catalyst to propel us forward.
In order to lead us out of this financial depression, tribal division, failing infrastructure, and broken health care system, we need a leader who truly understands all we have lost, and all that is at stake. We need a leader who can first empathize with all we have lost. Then and only then will he (or she) be able to focus on the issues that brought us to this decline.
Empathy is a necessary prologue to our Story.
It needs to be woven throughout the narrative. I feel that Joe Biden is the protagonist.
His capacity for empathy is great. The kind of great we need to define our future. The kind of great we have yet to achieve. The kind of great that is there within our collective soul, waiting to become more than a slogan on a hat.