SO I Lied

I am going to write about politics, but not the “this candidate is better than that candidate” or “So-and-so is an idiot” side to politics that I’m sure we’re all sick of hearing.

There’s a group based out of New York City called Improv Everywhere.  The main premise of the group is that improv can be enjoyed and conducted anywhere, like the Pantless Subway Ride, or flash mobs.  I love this kind of thing, so if anyone is in on an improv group or has a hook-up with a flash mob in the Twin Cities, let me know—I do impressions!  I really don’t want to get into a political debate, but if I were the campaign manager for a presidential candidate this current election, I’d propose taking a page from Improv Everywhere, not with “Hope” or “Change” or “Forward,” or even “Believe in America,” although those are great messages, but with a larger, more encompassing and specific idea: Empathy.  Imagine a world under which we employed the idea of Empathy Everywhere, not just for specific groups to which we belong, but to everyone.  Everyone deserves a little empathy.

Empathy Everywhere says: hold the door.  Press the “Door Open” button for the person running to catch the elevator, and if you’re the other person, run to catch the elevator, if you can, because Empathy Everywhere realizes how annoying it can be to have someone amble over and then push the button for the next floor up.  Empathy Everywhere walks the extra 60 feet to the elevators specifically designated for floors 1 through 10, even though it is less convenient for them, because Empathy Everywhere can imagine how frustrating it is to work on floors 11 through 20 and have to stop on every floor. Empathy Everywhere says we all should have an education and health care, not just people who can afford it, because Empathy Everywhere understands not everyone comes from a place of privilege, and providing health care for everyone helps prevent epidemics and outbreaks that affect all of us. Empathy Everywhere recognizes the importance of contributing to society and Empathy Everywhere lives within its means.  Empathy Everywhere stays home when it’s under the weather, even if it means using sick time, because Empathy Everywhere knows how icky it feels and doesn’t wish this nasty cold on anyone, even the people who don’t hold the elevator.  Empathy Everywhere understands that the people who don’t hold the elevator are just in a hurry.  Empathy Everywhere gives people the benefit of the doubt.

Empathy Everywhere doesn’t judge the harried mother with the screaming children because Empathy Everywhere can imagine it’s tough to get everything done with multiple children under the age of five.  And Empathy Everywhere leaves their two-year-old in someone else’s care if they need to, because sometimes it isn’t helpful to other people to have small children underfoot.  Empathy Everywhere listens when someone else is having a hard time and doesn’t jump in with suggestions or one-uppers because Empathy Everywhere realizes that sometimes we just want someone to listen and that everyone does the best they can at what they do, so fighting over petty things such as “who works harder” makes for a pointless endeavor.  No one wins that contest—”Congratulations! Your life is suckier than mine!” both makes the “winner” feel awful and undercuts any problems the “loser” may be having. It’s like when my friend’s son had a nightmare that his father stole all of his candy.  My first reaction was to laugh because the biggest problem this three-year-old could conceive of was someone taking all the M&M’s, and man, I wish that were my biggest problem. But then I realized that it doesn’t matter that there are greater problems than this; you can always find someone worse off than you are, and he’s only three, so the biggest problem he has should involve not enough candy.  Empathy Everywhere doesn’t belittle the problems of others because you can’t compare a burglary to a broken heart to cancer and why would you want to?

Empathy Everywhere doesn’t say “I’m withdrawing all my money” to George Bailey at the Bailey Bros Building and Loan like that guy, Tom, from It’s a Wonderful Life because Empathy Everywhere understands that money in the bank is being used to fund loans for other people.  And with that, Empathy Everywhere recognizes when it screws up as a bank and doesn’t charge ridiculous fees for things that don’t cost it anything, because although it may be better for said bank, financially, to charge $20 a month for services that should be basic, Empathy Everywhere understands the banking relationship: we’ll safeguard your money with the idea that we can use it to fund other people’s loans, for which we make a substantial amount in interest, only a fraction of which we pay back to you, the original backer.  Empathy Everywhere isn’t susceptible to greed or self-serving endeavors because Empathy Everywhere sees the greater good.  Sure, Empathy Everywhere would love to eat two pieces of cake on its first turn through the serving line but Empathy Everywhere realizes that there are 35 pieces of cake and 30 people, so it waits until everyone has a go at dessert before going back for seconds.

It doesn’t take much, just a little forethought and some observation of the world at large.  It means we have to stop for a second and think about how our actions affect other people, about how what we want might not be the best for everyone, how stepping aside, being patient, and seeing the other side of things doesn’t make us weak or waffling, it makes us one step closer to getting along and more open to—gasp!—compromise, which Empathy Everywhere fully supports.  Along with sharing.  And saying “Thank you,” because, gosh, I don’t know about you, but I never, ever get sick of hearing those two words said in earnest.  Empathy Everywhere. It’s a radical idea, I know, but I’m optimistic it will catch on. It all starts with you.  Okay, it starts with “Me” backwards, but that’s why I wrote this post!  Write your congresspeople today (but don’t write me in for President, because I’m far too young…)

Okay. I’m getting off my soapbox now and I won’t write about politics again*. I promise the next posts will be more lighthearted. In fact, some high-profile** guests have agreed to take over as I go into the final weeks of my thesis. Look for posts by my dad, my mom, my sister, and some other wonderful people. It’ll be blogtactular!

*At least, I don’t intend to. But if they throw another Clint Eastwood having an imaginary conversation with an empty chair at me, all bets are off.

**High-profile in that I’ve written about them. 🙂

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10 responses to “SO I Lied”

  1. thatgirlwhoreadsbooks says :

    Sarah, I nominated you for a Sisterhood of the World of Bloggers Award. Stop by my blog to see the official rules! 🙂

  2. TILT says :

    No but come closer. Come a little
    Closer. Let the wall-eyed hornyhanded
    Panhandler hit you for a dime
    Sir and shiver. Snow like this
    Drives its pelting shadows over Bremen,
    Over sad Louvain and the eastern
    Marshes, the black wold. It sighs
    Into the cold sea of the north,
    That vast contemptuous revery between
    Antiquity and you. Turn up your collar,
    Pull your hatbrim down. Commune
    Briefly with your ignorant heart
    For those bewildered raging children
    Europe surrenders her old gentry to.

    All their eyes turn in the night from
    Your fretfulness and forgetfulness,
    Your talk; they turn away, friend.
    Their eyes dilated with dreams of power
    Fix on the image of the mob wet
    With blood scaling the gates of order.
    Anarchist and incendiary
    Caesar bind that brotherhood
    To use and crush the civil guard,
    Debauch the debauché, level
    Tenement and court with soaring
    Sideslipping squadrons and hard regiments,
    Stripped for the smoking levée of the
    Howitzer, thunderstruck under the net.

    The great mouth of hunger closes
    On swineherd and princess, on the air
    Of jongleur and forest bell; Grendel
    Swims from the foul deep again.
    Deputy, cartelist, academician
    Question in haste any plumeless captain
    Before the peremptory descent
    Of mankind, flattered and proud.
    With whitening morning on the waste
    You may discern through binoculars
    A long line of the shawled and frozen,
    Moving yet motionless, as if those
    Were populations whom the sun failed
    And the malicious moon enchanted
    To wander and be still forever
    The prey of wolves and bestial mazes.

    –Robert Fitzgerald
    “Sympathy of Peoples” from Spring Shade: Poems 1931-1970 (New Directions, 1971)

  3. Clare P. says :

    I’m afraid that, nice as it sounds, I don’t agree with your Empathy Everywhere stance. Being nice to people face to face isn’t the same thing as embracing larger ideas of social justice. You can hold the door for a neighbor one day, and vote against raising the minimum wage the next. It’s the whole banality of evil problem. The same man who might be kind to dogs and small children might also be complicit in a system that allows the very poor to suffer with no health care.

    It’s nice to believe that considering other people’s feelings might be good enough, but I fear that it isn’t. Everyone believes themselves to be morally right, and sometimes, it isn’t easy to find a place of compromise. In some cases, I believe it is impossible.

    • sarahwithanh25 says :

      I appreciate what you’re saying, Clare, and I agree that it isn’t easy and that “[b]eing nice to people face to face isn’t the same thing as embracing larger ideas of social justice.” But just holding the door for someone isn’t entirely what I’m suggesting: it’s putting your wants/needs aside to look at the larger picture, at what is best for everyone. Empathy is different from etiquette and politeness, from being nice to someone face-to-face. I don’t believe that if you are genuinely empathetic to everyone in every situation you can hold the door for someone one day and vote against raising the minimum wage the next. Embracing a position of true empathy forces you to let go of personal biases, and even personal morality, to place yourself in another person’s experience. I believe that if people really start to think about other people on a smaller scale (like holding the elevator door and staying home when they’re sick) they will start to think of other people with regard to those larger issues, such as raising the minimum wage or providing health care to the poor. Empathy requires us to not just imagine what we (in our current situation) would do in someone else’s situation, but what we would do in someone else’s situation if we came from the position he or she comes from.

  4. sarahwithanh25 says :

    Reblogged this on Sarah in Small Doses and commented:

    This is the first of my 5 Blogs of Christmas. I thought it fitting for the Christmas Eve/Christmas Day posting. This post got a lot of comments and shares, and it recently was requested by one of my most loyal readers. So, Jeremy, this is for you. Merry Christmas! Love, Sarah

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