Prophetic Empathy

Unless things have changed since writing this, right now as you read this, children are being ripped from their parents’ arms as they try to enter this country fleeing horrific circumstances back home. Parents do not carry their children across vast treacherous lands not knowing what lies ahead leaving behind their lives, other family members, and community unless they have no other choice. And yet this basic truth seems to be lost on this administration and unfortunately many others in our country. In response to emails I sent out encouraging people to join local actions opposing this inhumane policy, I received responses from a few people expressing sentiments such as this: “I am an immigrant, entered lawfully, clear criminal record, law abiding citizen and I reject illegals coming to this great country as if anybody owns them FREE medical care, FREE education, FREE housing, RIGHT to vote – what a joke. Instead of putting hard earned money on illegals why don’t you take that money to invest in lawful citizens who greatly need financial support. Shame on you!

Why do some people respond this way, and how do we reply to them in the face of factual misunderstandings and a worldview that seems to prioritize punishment over love and care? For the past 2 years, I have been training people in how to be Spiritual Activists. In this training we teach people how to see the humanity of those whose political views differ from ours and how to challenge views we disagree with in a respectful and yet powerful way. Something is hurting so deeply within them that they are hurting others; we need to understand their pain. People are often confused as to how it is that we are living in such a deep and profound morally bankrupt society where the well-being of a corporation is more important than the well-being of the people and the planet, and where we seemed to have lost our capacity to hold the ‘other’ with compassion and care. Instead of asking ourselves, how can we help you, we tend to ask, what is wrong with you. Drawing on some of the profound insights that Rabbi Lerner and his team uncovered in their research through the Institute of Labor and Mental Health, I explain how it is that all three branches of the federal government and most statehouses and governorships are run by politicians who do not seem to care or advocate for the needs of their constituents, and why even though the economic and social policies of the Left benefit more people in society, we are not succeeding.

If we want to create a sea change we need to take a long, hard look at how we got here and what we can do to create long-term lasting change. What it is that draws people to groups that demean and harm others? People need to have a sense of belonging, community, and purpose. If joining a white supremacist group or religious community that demeans others improves their sense of self and provides a place of belonging, meaning, and purpose, that is a price some are willing to pay. One of the most critical aspects of our approach is that as we challenge politicians, policies, and behaviors that are abhorrent and resist efforts to undermine the gains we’ve achieved thus far, we do so with love and compassion in our hearts – emphasizing our shared humanity.

The text above was just an excerpt. The web versions of our print articles are now hosted by Duke University Press, Tikkun’s publisher. Click here to read an HTML version of the article or to download the PDF version.

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