adidas marathon America needs radical empathy in election’s aftermath
The waves crash together, the Hebrews drag themselves onto the shore, and “horse and driver are hurled into the sea” (Exodus 15:1). At that moment, the angels above sing for joy. The Israelites were free at long last. “Silence!” God bellows. “Can’t you see my children are drowning?”
I love that story, called a “midrash.” Midrash is a classical form of Jewish Biblical interpretation. This one calls for “radical empathy,” the ability to feel what others feel even those who oppressed us. Radical empathy is painfully hard, but it is humanity at its most divine.
This campaign and election have demonstrated how profoundly divided these “United” States are. We see the world differently, depending on our geography, gender, education,
class and race. We don’t expose ourselves to divergent opinions. We demonize those who think differently from us.
In the aftermath of the election, some are optimistic and others are grieving.
Judaism has a formula for grief, reminds Rabbi Spike Anderson. We sit shiva.
Shiva is the seven days of mourning immediately following a funeral. We allow ourselves to feel and remember. We stay at home, but make sure not to isolate ourselves. Afterwards, we dust ourselves off and get back to business.
Not all Americans are grieving. Far from it many are celebrating. What’s the Jewish obligation when someone else grieves? We sit shiva.
Even when the loss isn’t our own, we go to the House of Mourning and we offer what comfort we can because we empathize with what others are feeling. Empathy is the essence of community.
Although Americans are indeed having myriad emotions following the election, we must have the fundamental human empathy to sense what our fellows are feeling whether it’s exaltation, hope, relief, surprise, fear or pain.
We must offer them the fundamental dignity of respecting their experience,
of allowing them to have it without imposing ourselves upon them. We must honor them by listening, deeply, with our ears and our hearts.
Even though we see the world differently from each other, all human beings feel. If we could use this election as an opportunity for mass empathy, for taking a long deep breath and summoning a sense of what our fellow Americans are feeling, and sit with that feeling for a while even though it is not our own it would be a start, I think, to finding our lost sense of community.
That’s the empathy that’s needed now so that we can support each other in this transition.
It isn’t “kumbaya” dreaming. Rather, it’s a spiritual practice that will help us become better human beings and move our country forward.
And it’s not just internal. Real conversations with someone of a different political persuasion allow us to know, rather than to guess, what they’re feeling. “Radical Empathy” is as silly or as serious as you allow it to be.
How else will we be able to sit with one another at the American table once again? How else will we someday share with each other the bounty of this good land and the copious freedoms we enjoy?