Political discourse has been vitriolic. Rampant shootings of civilians by law enforcement personnel that appear quick to use deadly force has created divisiveness in our nation. Retaliation by unstable individuals target good people in law enforcement who place their lives on the line everyday for safety and welfare of our citizens creates sadness, horror and more schism among we Americans.
Sociologists, pundits, media talking heads, politicians, civil rights activists, the aggrieved, racists, victims, the privileged and the underprivileged, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Communists, Fascists, the religious right, the secular left, and everyone on Face Book or with an email account has an opinion as to what is wrong with our society – the whys, the history, the fallacies, the misunderstandings, the unjustified fears, the inability of those of different races, religions, sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds, country of origin, or physical / mental abilities to understand the facts or a particular individual’s beliefs.
What is missing in the discourse? I believe it is an appreciation of and a call to every human in our world to cultivate empathy.
Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another
being is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference or the ability to place oneself in another's position.
One of the skills that I have had to develop to achieve success in my profession in the insurance industry, which requires me to negotiate resolutions of complex disputes, is that of negotiation. To facilitate a negotiated settlement that involves persons or companies with diametrically opposed viewpoints, a good negotiator or mediator seeks to understand the needs of all parties to the conflict. That requires asking critical questions about the perspective of each party and listening to what each side wants and understanding what each side can live with. No side gets everything; but every side achieves something.
From my humble perspective empathy is what is required to achieve progress in the fractured world in which we find ourselves. It is critical that empathy be considered with police departments implementing training programs that discourage the use of deadly force unless faced with deadly force. Empathy can motivate at-large communities to work together to cure blight, improve neighborhoods, and to ensure public education provides equal opportunities for all students. Empathy creates environments of cooperation rather than opposition. Empathy requires us to listen to the viewpoints of others and try to understand another’s perspective. It is not necessary to completely agree with another’s perspective. But it is necessary to attempt to understand. Compromise and movement towards solutions are not possible without understanding.
If I have not walked in another human being’s shoes I cannot fully understand his or her experiences, fears, hopes, dreams or desolation and I cannot expect another to fully understand mine. But collectively, we as a nation have to try.
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