Empathy is not endorsement

(Click here for a video of John reading this Catch.)


In a recent interview in United Airlines Hemisphere magazine, singer/songwriter and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Bonnie Raitt, stated: “This time is the most fraught and worrisome in my lifetime. The polarization and the increased vitriol and the delusional misinformation and the lack of a responsible center, in journalism and in the culture and in politics, is a source of great stress and pain for me personally.” And when the interviewer asked her if she had any hope looking forward, she said: “we really gotta stop turning each other into the other side. I want to try to encourage whatever activities we can do and whatever coming together we can have that allows us to see the humanity in each other.”

Here at the Catch we are proposing just that, and then some. We are proposing that we learn to see the humanity not only in each other but through each other’s eyes. 

For a culture of people turning each other into “the other side,” this is quite a departure and will take a good deal of effort. When you turn someone into “the other side,” you don’t have to know what they stand for or what they believe or why they believe it; you don’t even have to listen to them. They are of no interest to you. They are the enemy — “the other side.” They are not on your side. The only people that matter to you are the ones on your side, and you already know what they think because they think just like you. It’s way too simple and awfully boring. But that is our world right now. It is a world where almost everything comes down to us and them.

What if we were to see through each other’s eyes — even the eyes of those on the other side? How would we even do that? It would require a whole different way of thinking. First, it would require a respect for personhood over and above any kind of ideology or point of view, political, religious, or otherwise. It would start with embracing the fact that every person is made in God’s image and is precious in His eyes. Then it would involve listening, not to change someone’s mind, or find out where they are wrong, but simply to understand why they believe what they believe even if it is different from what you believe. It’s been shown that in every real-time effort to bring polarized individuals together for an extended period of time, they become friends. In most cases they don’t change their point of view, but they do come to at least understand why “the other side” believes what they believe, and they end up with a friend instead of an enemy. 

This is one of the most important things we can do today to make a difference in the world — make personhood more important that politics. Empathy is not an endorsement of someone else’s beliefs; it’s an understanding of why someone believes what they believe and a respect for their right to think differently from the way you do. Bonnie Raitt got it right. When you think in terms of politics, there will always be us and them; when you think in terms of humanity, there is only us.

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8 Responses to Empathy is not endorsement

  1. Bob says:

    Too often when looking at “others “ my default is judgement, rather than curiosity.
    Sincere curiosity can help me get to know and care for “others “, instead of condemning them.
    Thanks for bringing this to the forefront right now, and using a secular artist to do it.

  2. John A Fagliano says:

    The truth is right in front of us every day. There is no one in the world who shares my opinion on everything. We want an easy world where everyone I like agrees with me and everyone I don’t like doesn’t. That world is a fantasy. What if someone likes the same music I do but their politics are different? What if our politics and interests are similar but they’re not christian? What if someone shares my Christian beliefs and politics, but doesnt approve of entertainment I like. And finally, what if they are christian like me but have a different theology? I think they believe in some heresies and they think the same of me? All these situations require work. We want it easy. I’m right. I’m good. I’m smart. You’re wrong. You’re bad. Your stupid. Intelligent spiritual Christians reject the easy and are prepared for work.

  3. Toni Petrella says:

    For years I have believed that if we were all alike the world would be rather dull. Its good to have different ideas and beliefs and not always agreeing is alright. The Lord made each of us special in our own way and well its a blessing from our Lord that in many ways we are all different inside and out.

  4. peter leenheer says:

    The analysis by Bonnie Raitt, of what is wrong in north America is spot on. The question is ‘What do I do?’ Well for me God’s army is people on their knees praying for the kingdom to come. in fact God does not need our help but he wants it. The prerequisite is that we do it out of love for him and complete surrender. So I pray and then let the Father guide me to where he is working. So I love but do not judge my neighbor. I teach children to have a relationship with Jesus. I hold up the dignity of my wife despite her dementia. I try not to complain about my physical frailties. But most of all I pray for a strength of faith like Abraham, Moses, Ruth, Deborah, Rahab, King David, my father and grandfather….Your Kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven….nothing is too hard for God. So let us be an army on our knees.

  5. Dave Morgereth says:

    “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” by Joe South

    If I could be you, if you could be me, for just one hour
    If we could find a way, to get inside each other’s mind
    If you could see you through my eyes, instead of your ego
    I believe you’d be, surprised to see, that you’ve been blind

    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Just walk a mile in my shoes
    And before you abuse, criticize and accuse
    Just walk a mile in my shoes

    Now, your whole world you see around you is just a reflection
    And the law of karma says you’re gonna reap just what you sow.
    So unless you’ve lived a life of total perfection
    You better be careful of every stone that you should throw.

    Now, if we spend the day throwing stones at one another
    ‘Cause I don’t think, or wear my hair same way you do
    Well, I may be common people, but I’m your brother
    And when you strike out and try to hurt me it’s a hurtin’ you

    Walk a mile in my shoes
    Just walk a mile in my shoes
    Yeah, before you abuse, criticize and accuse
    Just walk a mile in my shoes

  6. Boy I remember that song! Joe put it so well. And before I can walk that first step in someone else’s shoes, I have to be interested — curious, as Bob above said — about that other person’s point of view. My boyfriend has said that most of us tend to listen to each other with the aim to respond rather than to learn.

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