Why Care about Strangers?

Mural in NE Washington, DC. Photo taken by author.

I’m at a point where I almost don’t have the words anymore. Whether it’s draconian laws being passed in multiple states in the United States by those determined to drag our country back to the 1950s or the ongoing, horrifying war in Ukraine, it seems that atrocities are everywhere. I’ve been quiet for a while because it seems so overwhelming. But, now let’s chat.

I read this website and magazine called The Bitter Southerner. It highlights fascinating stories about real events and people in the Deep South. If you haven’t read it, you should. The writing always includes thoughts that we can apply to everyday interactions. There are a bunch, but I’m particularly drawn to “Abide No Hatred,” “Love Each Other,” and “Practice Radical Empathy.” Practice radical empathy. It’s so simple, and yet, so powerful. Practice. Radical. Empathy.

If you can look at the images that pervade our social media and our news channels from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and feel nothing; or read the pleading stories of those affected by new laws in the United States and turn a blind eye, you’re a tougher person than I.

Society, at least in the United States, is increasingly isolationist and self-centered. The mindset seems to be, “If it doesn’t directly impact me and mine, then I don’t care. Why should I? I don’t know those people; I don’t care about those people; it’s not my problem.” What a sad state of affairs we find ourselves in. I know that I’m a bit of an idealist, and a soft-hearted individual, possibly moreso than the average person. I’m good with that. But, the thought that we seem to care so little for one another hurts. Why should we care? Because we’re all human. Because if the roles were reversed, you’d want someone to care about you.

People spit out the word empathy like it’s leaving a bitter taste in their mouths, rather than being the sweet balm that soothes their soul. Without empathy a person becomes a mere shell, existing for no reason other than selfishness. When you give of yourself, without expectation of anything in return, you begin to recognize that all of us are just doing the best we can with what we’ve been given. You realize that even with differences in color, creed, location, socio-economic status, and language, we all are striving to love, be loved and accepted. Why is that so hard to understand?

I’m sure that telling people to be more empathetic sounds naïve to some, but it’s not naïveté that’s made me this way. It’s hope and optimism. It’s also cynicism and reality. It’s the knowledge that the ugly and hateful often get more coverage than the good. It’s that the ones who yell the most are often not the majority; they’re just the loudest. It’s watching elementary school kids do projects that help them become better global citizens and change agents. It’s having spent years watching people be awful and seeing others help, befriend, or care about perfect strangers. It’s having written about Black Lives Matter and having a conservative high school friend tell me that my writing changed his understanding about the movement.

Practice radical empathy, y’all. It’s not that hard.