Columns, Opinion

Modern Musings: A lack of empathy is literally killing us

Over the past two years, the United States has sunk into a crisis of morality, which can largely be attributed to the ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency. By electing a man who arguably has no moral compass to the highest office in our country, we have turned our backs on the ethical standards our nation is supposed to uphold. We have literally enabled the embodiment of hatred to run our country. Because of this, our political climate is more polarized than ever, and every political issue always ends up becoming a question of “us” versus “them.” There is a growing lack of empathy in our country, and we are beginning to see the consequences of people’s lack of concern for others.

Ultimately, morality is rooted in empathy, because if you don’t care about other people and the effects your actions may have on them, then you don’t care about doing what would be considered morally right. The consequences for our lack of empathy are deadly. Just in the past two weeks, there have been several incidents in which one person’s utter hatred and disregard for another person or group of people was on full display: a shooting in a supermarket driven by racism, a shooting in a synagogue motivated by anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories about the collaboration between Jewish people and immigrants to overtake America.

I am not trying to underplay the severity of these violent displays of hatred that cost people their lives — of course, there is something much deeper and more sinister behind these acts than a simple lack of empathy. But all these tragedies have a recurring theme, which is that the perpetrator felt threatened by a marginalized group he did not even try to understand or empathize with, and so resorted to violence.

It is easy enough to define the motivations behind these displays of hatred. But how do you teach someone with no regard for other people to care?

There is also a problem with the emerging trend in how Americans react to these tragedies as of late. Many Americans have become numb to the violence our country sees week in and week out, and our reactions have become dulled. We don’t respond to these incidents with the wrath that we used to. We don’t scream at the top of our lungs in the streets. We pull out our phones to check the news, read that more lives were lost, see the images of yet another horrific event and swipe to something else.

I refuse to believe that most Americans don’t care. There is, of course, a part of the American population that truly doesn’t care — those are the kinds of people who participate in alt-right rallies, who spread racist and xenophobic fake news as a hobby, who fall prey to the nationalist rhetoric spewed by Trump and his cohorts, who end up committing these hateful acts that result in many deaths.

But I believe that those who have numbed themselves to this violence are good-hearted. This numbing is just a shield, a defense mechanism, perhaps even a subconscious one. We believe that if we don’t allow ourselves to feel the pain of families grieving for their children killed in yet another school shooting or the suffering of immigrants just looking for a better life, then it can’t hurt us. Everyone has their own lives and their own problems, and it’s OK to unplug when we feel overwhelmed by the onslaught of horrible events in the news every day.

But we also can’t completely turn a blind eye to those people who need our support, and we can’t allow ourselves to become so hardened to the outside world that we become unfeeling. If we do that and allow the violence to continue, then there is no hope for our society.

As the holiday season approaches, we should be inspired by the spirit of giving and try to be more aware of the feelings of others. This does not require you to go to great lengths — it simply means listening when someone tells you how they’re feeling, thinking about the consequences of your actions, being aware of the impact of your words. We cannot possibly change as a society unless every individual becomes more mindful, more caring and more willing to give love, especially in dark times such as these. In the face of all those who just can’t be bothered to care about others, we must stand strong with the groups they target, because there is power in numbers and solidarity.

If recent events have inspired you to want to make an impact on a larger scale, think of those people whose voices are so often muffled by those in power. Raise up the voices of women and people of color by supporting their work, be it books, music, films, etc. Donate to a homeless shelter or volunteer at a soup kitchen. Donate to an immigrant advocacy group. March in solidarity with workers striking for better wages and healthcare. We can always do more to remind each other that we care deeply for one another and show our support for others.

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