Brady: The crucial importance of empathy

Published 6:29 pm Monday, October 2, 2017

In a recent issue of “The Christian Science Monitor Weekly (Sept. 18, 2017), there is an article entitled “Reading, Writing and Empathy” by Sara Miller Llana. Basically, the article  is about something called “social learning” being taught in some of the schools in Denmark. The idea behind the course is to teach social awareness and instill empathy” and in the process make Denmark and perhaps even Europe a more civil place to live.”

The author goes on to say that “at its deepest level, encouraging empathy is seen as a step toward moving away from the ethos of individualism that characterized 20th century societies toward a greater tolerance of other cultures in the interconnected world of the 21st century.” Specifically, the article points out that a growing number of parents think that how children treat each other in the classroom is equally important to their academic training. A number of other important related matters are discussed — immigration, cyberbullying, easy internet access and the isolation of young people.

To me, this is a very important article, not only because it is addresses the needs of young people and their future, but because it also points a way forward for our divisive and disagreeable society of today. The key is empathy! Empathy means the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference.

So how does empathy apply to the headline-screaming issue of standing, kneeling, sitting or staying in the locker room for the playing or singing of the national anthem? For the purpose of this article, I don’t need to go into the lengthy verbiage already given to this issue. Essentially, a number of professional football players and/or others have, for various reasons, protested when the national anthem was presented. The president, in unfortunate language, called the protestors disrespectful and went so far as to say that the owners should fire those players or suspend them. Result? Over the last few weeks, a number of National Football League teams joined together in protesting against the flag and the president’s remarks.

In the light of empathy, and the need of empathy, let’s briefly look at the wisdom of the Bible. In the Bible, people of faith are told to “respect authority” and “pray for those in leadership positions (Romans 13:1; l Timothy 2:1,2). This calls for believers to recognize that they “stand under” government in the scheme that God has set up for ruling the world.

Next, we people of faith are to “do justice” — to seek the elimination of racism in all its forms. The Old Testament is full of admonitions meant to derail injustice. Writing to the Galatians, Paul stated, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). No further clarity needed here.

Then, we people of faith are called to practice and extend kindness. “Love is kind,” declared Paul (l Corinthians 13:4). Love, as kindness, looks for a way to be constructive.

Now, what does all this say about the need for empathy in America today? What does it say about our capacity to understand or feel what a fellow American is experiencing from within this other American’s frame of reference?

For a number of Americans, the American flag is a symbol of love, devotion, courage, freedom, opportunity and sacrifice. It reminds us of the countless heroes and heroines, all through the years, who have served and continue to serve as the defenders of our freedom. Many of whom have given their “last full measure of devotion” for this priceless blessing of liberty. To these Americans, those who protest the flag are being disrespectful.

On the other hand, other Americans do not feel the same way about the American flag. The original protester, the first one to take a knee during the national anthem, was Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. At that time, Kaepernick stated that “ he wasn’t going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppressed black people and people of color.” Agree or not, Kaepernick and those who have followed in his protesting path, have a right as American citizens  to share their differing opinions and non-violent actions. The very flag these protesters protest is the guarantee of their right to protest it.

I repeat, empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference. The issue of the American flag before us today is not about who can yell the loudest or who can get the most attention from the media. It is about empathy — listening and learning and working together for our common good as Americans. Empathy is the light at the end of the tunnel and our real hope.

Hal Brady operates Hal Brady Ministries in Decatur with the stated goal of presenting the good news of Jesus and offering encouragement in positive ways.