Make America empathetic again


Published: 4/16/2019 1:07:24 PM

Americans are far less empathetic than they used to be. Sara Konrath, a professor at the University of Indiana, conducted a review of studies that used a widely accepted protocol to measure the degree to which participants feel empathy for others, i.e., are able to care about and seek to understand those who are different from themselves. Since the 1970s when this protocol was first used, the empathetic measure for Americans has declined by 40 percent (as reported on NPR’s Morning Edition on April 12).

This is frightening and appalling. In my view, this should be the number one issue to consider as we begin the process of deciding who will be president for the next four years.

Yes, there are many other compelling issues. Climate change is real and its devastating impact is already being felt across the world. Income inequality grows wider and wider and little is being done to address it. The rise of hate groups and white supremacists, encouraged by the often hate filled words of our current president, is growing faster than it has in decades.

Many still struggle to get health care and there are those who are actively working to limit that availability more. The opioid epidemic devastates families from all walks of life. The respect that the United States garners on the world stage is being terribly eroded. Yes, all of these issues are critical and must be solved. But solving them does little for the soul of our nation if we cannot find our way back to caring about each other.

This is not a Left versus Right issue; I suspect one would find little difference in the measures of empathy in Red States or Blue States. Both “sides” are losing or have lost the ability to try to understand where their adversaries are coming from. From Trump’s commitment to vilify anyone who opposes any of his ideas, to Clinton’s statement about a “basket of deplorables,” our leaders are actively working to push us apart rather than to bring us together. Even many of our religious leaders have taken sides, have closed their eyes to positions and policies that are diametrically opposite from their religious teachings because it is their side that is espousing those positions and policies.

I said that the loss of empathy is frightening and appalling. I believe this because the lack of the ability to care for the other is the breeding ground for fascism and totalitarianism. It is fertilizer for hate and greed.

So what can be done? In a previous letter to this paper, I wrote that the president should be the “mensch” in chief. The president, through his or her words, actions and deeds, must lead the nation to a more loving, more caring place. Yes, in this era, a president must be strong and assertive. But she or he also must be loving and caring.

Our current president demonstrates the opposite. His narcissistic need for self-aggrandizement and attention makes him constitutionally incapable of feeling and demonstrating empathy. Above all other characteristics, we desperately need to find a leader who will reach out to the whole country, with empathy, compassion, understanding, and love.

Peter Rosnick, Professor Emeritus from Greenfield Community College, has lived in Conway for over 40 years.

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