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It didn’t occur to me that imagining the humanity of people other than myself was my responsibility. Matthews what bathroom I — a transgender woman — should use.
And yet the root cause of so much grief is our failure to do just that. Even though I “pass” as a woman and have female anatomy and ID, North Carolina law holds that I should use the men’s room (since my birth certificate says M).
But what about the muscles needed to be an empathetically fit human being? And how do we create opportunities for greater compassion and empathy in our world?
Have you ever gone to visit a person or a place and left feeling refreshed for one reason or another?Feelings of awe, such as those generated by incredible images from space, seem to do the same thing, he says.Professor Pinker, in his superb book “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” explores whether the spread of affordable fiction and journalism beginning in the 18th century expanded empathy by making it easier for people to imagine themselves in the shoes of others.Above all, let’s remember that compassion and rationality are not effete markers of weakness, but signs of civilization._________For Writing and Discussion1. Boylan suggests that much of the despair and grief in the world may come from a lack of empathy. And, do you consider it your responsibility to “imagine the humanity” of others? Have you ever been “otherized” — made to feel alien or different — through teasing, bullying or cyberbullying? Do you think a lack of empathy is at the heart of this kind of behavior? “The biggest empathy generator is cuteness,” one expert tells him, “which is why so many charities feature photos of children and why so many conservation organizations feature pandas.” Another expert agrees: “It is subject to bias — both laboratory studies and anecdotal experiences show that empathy flows most for those who look like us, who are attractive and who are nonthreatening and familiar.” How can we counteract the inherent bias that seems to be hard-wired in our empathy muscle? Is it the responsibility of families, schools, churches or community centers, for example?Should our ethics “transcend our own personal experience and embrace the dignity of the human race”? Do you think purposeful programs, projects or even just conversations might help to create empathy and sensitivity toward others?Researchers have found that reading literary fiction by the likes of Don De Lillo or Alice Munro — but not beach fiction or nonfiction — can promote empathy.I used to be cynical about student service projects, partly because they seemed so often to be about dressing up a college application, and trips so often involve countries with great beaches. ) Then there was The Washington Post’s report about the Mexican church that was painted six times over the course of a summer by successive waves of visitors.Can empathy help bridge the divides that fracture us as a nation and world?In this Text to Text, Jennifer Finney Boylan’s personal essay “Bring Moral Imagination Back in Style” and Nicholas Kristof’s Op-Ed “How Do We Increase Empathy? Both pieces acknowledge that while learning to feel empathy may be challenging, it is a skill worth nurturing.This piece picks up where an earlier Op-Ed, “Where’s the Empathy? It makes him ask the question, “So what do we know about empathy and how to nurture it? “She’s Not There,” by the Zombies, was playing on the radio. Not long ago I was searing a steak in my apartment when the place filled with smoke and the fire alarm went off. I had to do this about a half-dozen times before the thing stayed off, and each time I climbed up, my ears — already damaged from a lifetime of playing in rock ’n’ roll bands — were less than two feet from the piercing alarm.”By pairing these two texts, we encourage students to think about what responsibility people have to try to empathize with others different from themselves, and how it may — or may not — help make the world a better place._________Key Questions• What responsibility do we have to try to empathize with others who are different from us? This was a little strange.“Why is Hilda listening to WFIL? “She thinks it’s classical.”I’ve told this story lots of times since it happened, back in 1968. When the noise finally stopped, my hearing was “traumatized,” as the otolaryngologist later described it. Now I keep thinking about Hilda, whose handicap struck me more as the stuff of comedy than of compassion.