Another essential element: empathy

Dear President Trump,

I’ve got another essential element for our post-covid-19, post-you, better-culture-for-all; empathy. However, before I unpack it (again), I want to do something I don’t do very often (ever?), which is to thank you for being such an incredible foil. Most of the time it would make no sense whatsoever for me to explain the things I explain to you and that’s because most non-sociopathic, reasonably intelligent people know this stuff well by the age of four or five even if they don’t routinely remind themselves of the details. You, on the other hand, truly seem bereft of these basics – completely void of decency, courtesy, standards, morals, and care. Whether you ever had access to these ways of being and chose to quash them in favor of profit and power, I can’t know for sure, but you aren’t even capable of pretending so my guess is that you never stood in that line when qualities were being doled out and they are a mystery to you.

Ok, empathy. It’s something I’ve written to you about often so maybe you could come up with a basic definition, but to be on the safe side, here’s the Oxford definition:

“em*pa*thy, /ˈempəTHē/, noun: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”

Actually in providing you this assist, I learned something. If you’d asked me to set out the syllables of “empathy” I would have said they go like “emp*a*thy”, but apparently that’s incorrect.

Anyway, back to the content at hand, I strongly recommend you read the WP editorial by 3rd year medical student William Liakos entitled “My grandfather died of covid-19. More empathy from everyone may have prevented such deaths in this pandemic.” Liakos recounts his path from being a medical student hearing about a far-off disease and unquestioningly taking US authorities’ word for it that it was not a big deal and wouldn’t pose any real threat to us here in this country to now contending with the loss of a grandfather he loved dearly to that disease. He argues that a failure of basic empathy for what the people of Wuhan and Italy were going through early on paved the way for our horrifically flawed response.

In many ways I agree with him – I know I tend to be inured to the endless stream of stories of people (and animals) who are suffering and if I’m feeling tender, I’m quite adept at scrolling past those stories I know will be emotionally wrenching. And, I absolutely agree with Liakos that for us to better step up and take care, we’ve got to get better at cultivating empathy for one another and thus, it’s a non-negotiable ingredient for a better post-you US. However, this lack of empathy, or more specifically, this lack of empathy for those we don’t know or who we perceive to be different from us is so deeply engrained, longstanding, and far-reaching that it’s going to take profound shifts in our collective consciousness to turn this around.

I also think it lets you and your administration off the hook far too easily to say that it was the populace’s lack of empathy that screwed up our response to covid-19; you all knew it was coming and you did what you always do – you engaged in willful ignorance so you could buy time and squeeze another buck out of the system. Yes, we are all responsible for the fact of you, and yes, we are all responsible for what we do and do not give our attention and care to, but you were in charge and you failed.

Our job now is to stay present, breathe, let go of the hot coals we’re jonesing to throw at the people who voted for you, and so solidly center empathy and compassion that we can’t possibly let another administration that doesn’t share these basic values prevail ever again.

May we be safe from our POTUS.
May we be willing to cultivate such radical empathy that we transform who and how we are.
May we be healthy and strong through the bumpy transition from here to there.
May we accept that we must change or far too many will continue to die tragic deaths.

Tracy Simpson

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