Love and Empathy

Previously I have said that the cost of love is ego. While enacting love we show empathy for another’s experience. But, it turns out that showing empathy for people we don’t identify with is difficult.

Today I read an article by Jonathan Chait. It is best described as a deeply flawed pan-flute of bigotry. He intones a wide variety of dog-whistle political attacks with carefully coded language to cast blame on women, people of color, and liberals for policing the tone and language of discussions/arguments about bigotry. In total it was a difficult thing to read through, but it is a very resonant display of distain. Chait does not have empathy for other people’s experience, he is the kind of man whose opinion about a thing is directly linked to whether it affects him. Like when a politician changes their stance on marriage after their child publicly comes out.

What Chait puts forward is a powerful ego response, many of the things he critiques are ego too, constrained by his personal experience and identity. He shuffles through a variety of stories about people that failing an ideological test. When a real world opportunity for empathy comes to them they hide in the letter of their philosophy, instead of the spirit. They become ideologues and extremists, because they fear a loss of identity if they occupy an opposing view or feeling.

In my real life I run into a frequent test of my empathy. When someone tells me that they have lost a loved one. I know what that is like, I have experienced it. Reliving my experience is not empathy, accepting and taking on their perspective–there in that moment–is empathy.

This year I took Rockford with me when I got a flu shot. Imagine being two-and-a-half years old and a stranger has a hypodermic. My kid is a trooper he wanted to sit in my lap, he remembers what a shot is, his ego response was to solve this imminent problem through comfort. He calmed down immediately when he realized that he wasn’t getting a shot. His eyes got wide and he pouted when the nurse pushed the needle into my shoulder. He reached out his hand and said, “Papa, ouch?!” I told him, “I’m okay,” he sat in my lap to gently (thank god) pat my bandaid and coo, “Papa. Ouch, okay.”

To me that is what empathy and love are, it isn’t about my experience, it is about sharing the other person’s experience.

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