Selective empathy and relationships with ‘others’ – Vayetzei
Terror has struck ‘us’ again. I write ‘us’ referring to Westerners who identify with the Paris victims. I feel angry about this attack against ordinary people in a Western city. A terrible destruction of life perpetrated against people who live in a‘normal’city like I do. I am surrounded by outrage and solidarity expressed in French flags, on Sydney‘s Harbour Bridge, the OperaHouse and all over Facebook. But surely, every life of a non-combatant taken violently is an utterly unacceptable violation of the sanctity of life?
I am disturbed to read Facebook posts by my Arab and Muslim friends rightly expressing their hurt at the implication that French lives appear to matter more to Westerners than Arab or Muslim lives. Some posts list the names of places where Arab or Muslim blood has been spilled, including the terrible attacks in Beirut. Yet, none of these posts mention the recent stabbings of Israeli civilians. I feel a deep sadness about the selective empathy so much in evidence right now.
The term ‘selective empathy‘ is almost a tautology because researchers in this field explain that empathy is by its very nature geared toward people we see as being like us. We can overcome this natural tendency to limit our circle of empathy either by calling on increased compassion (which is not naturally restricted to people like ourselves) or by changing our relationships with ‘them’ so that they become part of‘us’.
The inclusion of those we are unfamiliar with and whom we regard as alien can feel quite threatening. After the Biblical Jacob left his village and the people familiar to him he put rocks around his head when he stopped for a nap along the way. This act is considered highly symbolic. Jacob protected his mind from the influences of a new place. Only his hands, symbolising action, were to connect with the new place, but his mind had to remain ‘unpolluted’(1).
Despite the fear some people have about how they might be changed or lose their identity, they do often make efforts to connect with the other. When Jacob met the ‘strangers’ among whom he would live he addressed them as ‘my brothers (2)“.It is easier to regard people as abstract threats when you are not interacting with them face to face.
Note to my readers: This is the text of a statement released today by the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture, where I have the honor of serving as Chief Policy Wonk. Signatories include the full USDAC National Cabinet, members of the first and second cohorts of Cultural Agents, and members of the Action Squad. Please share!
The USDAC calls on all artists and creative activists to use our gifts for compassion and justice, sharing images, performances, experiences, writings, and other works of art that raise awareness, build connection, cultivate empathy, and inspire us to welcome those who are forced from homes that are no longer safe.
More than four million Syrians have been driven from their homes, becoming refugees. Although state governors hold no power to bar entry to the U.S., a short time after the acts of terrorism that took lives in Beirut and Paris, more than half have issued statements rejecting Syrian refugees within their borders. Polls have shown that many Americans oppose accepting Syrian refugees. Poll results from the 1930s and 1940s showed majority opposition to accepting German child refugees and Jews; and from the 1970s majority opposition to the admission of refugees from Southeast Asia.
Once again, we must ask:
- Who are we as a people?
- What do we stand for?
- How do we want to be remembered?
As a culture of fear and isolation? Or as a culture that values every human life, extending love and compassion to newcomers needing refuge?
by: Arif Qazi on September 16th, 2015 | Comments Off
With the High Holidays here. Kate Poole has published a new comic commenting on some of our concerns today regarding wealth, race and consumerism. Explore more of Kate’s work here.
Hooverville 1932 credit Tony Fischer
Herbert Hoover, like many politicians in the Bay Area today, believed that the market and private philanthropy could solve all ills even while shantytowns (similar to San Jose’s Jungle) cropped up around every major city: the direct result of mass unemployment, mass eviction, and bankruptcy.
Then as now, people constructed homes of cardboard, lumber, tin, and canvas. They dug holes in the ground. And they situated themselves near waterways. One of the largest Depression-era “jungle” was located outside St. Louis by the Mississippi River, a settlement of 5,000 people with a “mayor” and four churches! Another major Hooverville sprang up in Seattle. Then as now, local governments tried to evict them only to have them return. In Seattle, they reached an agreement on co-existence and self-government that lasted through the bad times.
Recently, San Jose’s mayor Liccardo spoke at the Vatican about moving forward with motel conversions, micro housing, and finding jobs for the homeless. The mayor mentioned a site where 150 micro-houses will be installed, but no one in the housing activist community seems to know where that site is. Some say private philanthropy has been slow to materialize. Maybe San Jose’s wealthy need to have “thrift parties” as they did in the 1930′s where socialites paid a lot to wear old clothes and eat hot dogs, and the proceeds went to shantytowns.
It’s true that some formerly homeless, perhaps several hundred, are now housed. That’s important. Others have gone through rigorous austerity-education programs only to discover that, rationally, they cannot afford to live in San Jose at all.
by: Allen L. Roland on July 27th, 2015 | Comments Off
Sixty years after Albert Einstein and Bertrand Russell issued their manifesto about the growing threat of world war, the globe continues to face the prospect of nuclear annihilation coupled with the looming threat of climate change as well as Teilhard’s ominous warning: Love one another or you will perish: Allen L Roland, PhD.
“We have reached a decisive point in human evolution, at which the only way forward is in the direction of a common passion- Either we must doubt the value of everything around us, or we must utterly believe in the possibility, and I would add, in the inevitable consequences of universal love.” Teilhard de Chardin, Human Energy.
With all the celebrations of gay same-ness after the Supreme Court’s recent decision to legalize gay marriage, I am grateful for Leah Laskhmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s filthy gorgeous poems, which remind us how queer desires still have the power to fuck shit up. The poems in her collection Bodymap demonstrate how queer desires–for each other, for ourselves, for something different – can provide a roadmap for moving toward freedom.
Reading so many poems about raw, dirty, queer crip sex made me think about Yasmin Nair’s recent argument that radical sex does not always translate into radical politics. While I agree that we can’t assume that any particular kind of sex is necessarily revolutionary (don’t we all know kinky people with regressive politics?), the poems in Bodymap serve as an argument that queer desire can–and should – fuel us to challenge the social order and reclaim the full humanity of those whom capitalism discards – including queers, people of color, working class folks, poor people, immigrants, undocumented people, and disabled folks.
What shines through every single poem is how hard Piepzna-Samarasinha has had to fight to love her queer, femme, disabled, brown working class self in a world that doesn’t always love her back. Her determination to love is generous; it starts with herself and then spreads its shimmering wings out to encompass all of us who have been marginalized and fucked over by systems of oppression.
by: Allen L. Roland on June 29th, 2015 | Comments Off
Credit: CreativeCommons / Robin Ducker.
David Whyte’s well of grief can be compared to a Black Hole in space but it’s deep within many who live in fear, but at its center is a point of convergence- a state of consciousness that lies beyond time and space, a Unified Field of love and soul consciousness whose principle property is the urge to unite, or as Longfellow once wrote, the thread of all sustaining beauty that runs through all and doth all unite: Allen L Roland, Ph.D.
“We are put on Earth a little space to bear the beams of love” ~ William Blake
It’s not surprising that our lives are so inextricably bound with archetypal images of terror which we then project onto the world around us. For our entry into life is a traumatic passage through a black tunnel of fear- an experience of being inescapably drawn into and swallowed by a terrifying black hole that pulls us into another world!
by: Shaikh Kabir Helminski on June 25th, 2015 | 1 Comment »
Credit: CreativeCommons / Yetto.
To be a contemplative is to focus the heart on the Absolute Reality that gives meaning to life; to be a spiritual activist is to be engaged in the social world without losing the perspective of that heavenly Absolute Reality.
To be an activist is also to be a realist, to realize that many people are tied primarily to the materialistic plane, the secular world, the outer appearances. And yet no sane human being is entirely without a sense of values, an inner life which, if we are honest, is the key to happiness.
The contemplative faces that inner world of values directly and draws strength and wisdom from it, but no human being is devoid of those inner values, no matter how confused, egotistical, or negative they may be.
The gap between the religious world and the secular world seems to be growing larger; both sides seem to lack a way to communicate with each other. This is one of the greatest challenges of our times. The secular world views the many disparate beliefs and the conflicts among them and wants no part of it. The religious world, suspicious of the freedoms claimed by the secular world, looks at the erosion of values and morals and sees religion as something that can protect the moral nature of humankind.
But there is a third perspective, and this may be the hope of the future. This third perspective recognizes the limitations of all religious beliefs, but without discarding the core values of spirituality. It also recognizes how much the secular world sacrifices to the idols of consumerism and materialism. But it respects secularism for not imposing a single interpretation of belief upon society and for allowing the freedom to choose one’s own lifestyle.
Credit: CreativeCommons / DixieSCV.
In February, 2009, then Attorney General Eric Holder, in an address at the Department of Justice to commemorate Black History Month, said we in the United States were “a nation of cowards” when it comes to an honest conversation about race. He continued to speak about the importance of Black History Month and the shame that such was necessary because so much of African-American history has been erased from American history. He thought we ought to dedicate Black History Month to a conversation on race because as the demographics of the United States change, there will be no racial majority. We will need to put racism behind us.
The conversation on race is a difficult conversation to have because it goes to the core of our own identities. While race is a constructed concept with its own history, it never-the-less goes to the heart of the myth of ontological, hereditary goodness. The courage required in this context is the courage to face the reality that none of us is good because goodness is inscribed in our very being. We are not good or bad because our ancestors were good or bad. We are good or bad according to the moral decisions we ourselves make. We cannot inherit moral rectitude.
In the wake of the sad, shocking, heartbreaking, mind-soul numbing murders of nine African Americans at a prayer meeting/Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina by a young man with racist motives, the nation once again faces the meaning of the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia that is commonly thought to be the flag of the Confederate States during the Civil War. It was a symbol that the young white killer used to represent his racist ideals. The flag that flies on the statehouse grounds in South Carolina and in other states in the south is controversial because of its use by whites during the civil rights movement and beyond.
For many Americans it is a symbol of slavery, the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil, legal racial segregation – American apartheid (apart hate) – and a white supremacist ideology. For others it is a symbol of southern pride, heritage, and a way of life. The problem is that the southern way of life is built upon a deception of white supremacy. Let us be clear. Racism and white supremacy are manifestations of a social psychosis found north, south, east, and west in the United States. The problem with people who want to make a confederate battle flag a symbol of southern heritage is that it is love for a fantasy that is not real and that cannot love you back.
by: Cat Zavis and Rabbi Michael Lerner on June 24th, 2015 | Comments Off
Credit: CreativeCommons / jamieskinner00.
Racism is the demeaning of an entire group of people and refusal to see them as fully human in the way we see ourselves and those we deem to be “like” us. When we fail to see the humanity of the “other,” we ascribe to them ugly characteristics that somehow justify treating them with less honor and less generosity than we would others who are part of the groups we do see as fundamentally like us. From this place of separation we justify denying the “other” equal rights, benefits, and caring that all human beings deserve.
Racism in the United States has a long history. It was foundational to U.S. expansion throughout the North American continent, allowing white people to justify to themselves genocidal policies toward Native Americans, to allow slavery, and to incorporate into our Constitution a provision that would count African slaves as three-fifths of a human being so that Southern States would have higher representation in the Congress, though racists both North and South didn’t think of them as human beings at all.