Our loss of compassion

This. This article hit home.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who have put up a GoFundMe or other fundraising effort to help subsidise their or their family member’s life-threatening illnesses. And, like many, I’m bloody tired of having endless discussions about the politics of fear and greed.

I’m beyond enraged that individuals who have dedicated their time to work for employers who tell them they need to go on disability (at which point they lose their benefits and income) because of a chronic condition. I’m beyond incredulous how an employer can simply fire individuals because they are sick—too sick—to work, thus eliminating their benefits entirely (in one case, whilst the woman, who worked for corporate giant Radio Shack for 30 years, was on life support fighting for her own life).

I am beyond enraged when ‘leaders’ like Speaker Paul Ryan say that these same people simply don’t want to buy insurance. Never mind these people whom I know and care about deeply made every effort to ensure they have the coverage they need. What does Speaker Ryan think my beloved mother-in-law, well into her 80s, should do? What about an individual with dementia? What about a child born with a congenital birth defect?

There’s an element of American society that I don’t remember after living abroad for nearly 20 years. Not everyone mind, but a healthy enough proportion of us have become unimaginably cruel. Unless and until it happens to them, certain individuals seem to delight in the pain and suffering and hardships faced by others. It’d be bad enough if we simply turned a blind eye to that suffering. But, even within political discussions these days, the level of delight in watching others fail or flounder astounds me. It’s sad—so incredibly sad. For all of us.

I don’t have my own children, but I want all children to have equitable access to quality education without putting themselves or their families in debt. Why? Because I want those children to grow up equipped to become productive and engaged members of society.

I am healthy and have (touch wood) never really experienced any dire or life-threatening issues. But, I also want universal healthcare for all of my fellow Americans because I understand that ill-health and unfortunate accidents can happen to anyone. Accessing treatment shouldn’t be a privilege for those fortunate enough to have money or a privileged position within society. Like it or not, we all get sick or can. And, no-one should be forced to choose between food or shelter or health care for their loved one. Everyone’s life is priceless to someone else.

People matter. Individuals matter. Any one individual may not matter to me personally, but that isn’t what’s important. Understanding that we all have some worth or merit or characteristic which makes us priceless to others is what drives my own compassion and empathy. And, understanding that my own happiness does not come from ignoring my compassion for others guides my support for particular policies and practices. I want others to be happy just as I want to be happy myself.

To me, sitting over here in my socialist, high-tax, high-quality life in Finland where kids are exceptionally educated and health care is available to all for pennies, the US looks a lot less compassionate than I remember.  As angry as I am, I am far, far sadder. And I suspect, I am far from alone in this sadness.


On empathy…

My husband and I were talking yesterday about why two US Supreme Court decisions which have very little impact upon our lives meant so much to us both on a deeply personal level. He, being the incredibly poetic man that he is, quipped—‘you cry tears of joy because you have empathy’.

I don’t know if it is that, or simply that I am delighted for those individuals whom I adore who finally may marry whom they love and wish to spend their lives. That isn’t the case for every same-sex couple I know — in the US or elsewhere. But, it is slowly becoming a reality as we chip away at archaic notions of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m not sure if my own beliefs surrounding the rights of LGBTQI stem from a sense of empathy or that there is simply nothing wrong with loving who you love. And, at the end of the day, as long as there is no lasting emotional or physical harm to either individual, it’s really no one else’s business.

But, what of empathy? What if we all worked harder to be a little more empathetic towards those with whom we only share differences?

Most likely, we’d find that we aren’t really that different and we share more than one characteristic. More than one ambition or hope overlaps even the most disparate pair. Or, perhaps, we simply talk about our differences using a language (or vernacular) which neither understands.

In my ‘day job’, an endless capacity for empathy pervades those who take up the difficult task of working with some of society’s ‘least desirable’ (as defined by some elite class). Typically, these are drug users, prisoners, sex workers, homeless, etc. Poverty, disease and an enduring suffering combined with a sense of hopelessness and self-loathing on unimaginable scales for most mortals greet many. Yet, in all of it, there is hope. There is acceptance. And, yes, there is love. We envision a world where we all are accepted and our rights as humans are acknowledged and upheld regardless of our individual circumstance. Human rights are human rights and they should be granted and accessible to all. That is, I don’t think anyone takes up this work without the understanding that, at the end of the day, we are all equal individuals entitled to the same opportunities and chances to fulfill our dreams. It doesn’t matter what label you attach to us; we’re all just people. We are all worthy.

Personally, I’d like to think that my own capacity for empathy helps shape all of my actions, both as an individual and in what I do for a ‘living’. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone nor is it a reality in my little utopian existence. Likewise, there is some debate about how much empathy may aide us in making the world that little bit better.

Whether its naivete, idealism or simply a pipe dream, there are moments when I am less empathetic to others, and that is something which I’ll strive to change. It may help. It may not. But, it certainly doesn’t hurt anyone to try it out.