The death of empathy

“Empathy…. it’s what we teach our children… We try to instill a strong moral foundation…. but right now kids in the is country are seeing what happens when we stop requiring empathy of one another. They are looking around wondering if we’ve been lying to them this whole time about who we are and what we truly value. They see people shouting in grocery stores unwilling to wear a mask to keep us safe. They see people calling the police on folks minding their own business just because of the color of their skin. They see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here. That greed is good and winning is everything…. They see what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain.” ~Michele Obama

I usually don’t comment on social media, but I just couldn’t help myself.

It was just an image of a homeschooling “COVID-19 Schedule” – colorful and bright, with the kind of font you’d see on a home baking blog or in a first grade teacher’s “about me” letter.

The schedule was simple. Wake up, family walk, academic time, quiet time. Most of the day was at least somewhat mapped out. Not in 10-minute increments, but in hourly themed blocks. I saw it and stopped, made a mental note that I liked how some of the day was structured.

Then I saw what people were saying about the schedule. Sanctimonious. Privileged. Nonsense.

See, I see something different.

What I see, and what I saw in that schedule, is the face of an exhausted mom who is trying as hard as she can to find order in chaos. Who is trying to figure out how to do All of the Things and not make the wrong move in a society that destroys you with every misstep. A mom who takes action and makes a schedule for herself and her kids, adds in their (and her) favorite stuff and uses a child-like font. Maybe she’s got a neuro-atypical child (or is herself neuro-atypical) and she honestly requires this schedule, or something like it, to function.

Maybe it’s from an occupational therapist who works with kids on the spectrum and their families, who provided it to a grateful client and then decided to share with the rest of the world. (That yoga is an option on the schedule makes me think some kiddo in that house sees an OT or a physical therapist.)

Or, yeah, maybe it’s from a white, wealthy woman who wrote this “sanctimonious” schedule to make it seem she is sailing through this pandemic with perfection – because maybe having everyone else say she’s doing it “right” will quiet the anxiety and inadequacy in her own mind.

In other words, I see something completely different from what the people who shared it and commented on it saw.

They saw something to ridicule.

I saw someone who’s trying.

I also saw in the commenting on that schedule something that scares me.

We cannot lose our empathy, friends.

It is simply too important. It is also incredibly delicate. Fragile, even.

And it’s something all leaders must have.

It’s easy to see now that the lack of empathy in our leaders has led us to this dangerous moment in history. With bullies in the White House, in legislatures, in corporate boards, in nearly every position of authority and leadership you can think of, we are surrounded by people telling us to make our own lives better by making someone else’s … less.

We deserve better than that. We are better than that.

And as for the commenters on that post, I know they’re just pointing out that the schedule would be ridiculous for them, for their situation, for their lives. Like me, they’re probably frustrated with what’s before us and are full to the brim with anger. Maybe they wish they had the choices the schedule suggests the family that created it have. I know the people commenting are good people. Kind people.

But that’s why it was jarring to see. And it’s why I paused.

Judgment is becoming reflexive. Our first reaction. And our fight response is on hair trigger tension, where the slightest movement sets it off.

I want to deaden that reflex. Release that tension. Remind our better angels that we are all so tired. So worried. So overwhelmed.

I think over the next few years it’s going to be so important to cultivate our empathy for one another. To not let that essential part of ourselves be destroyed by this political moment – and by a social media culture that rewards sharp words and quick judgment.

It’s something I’ll be working on personally. Because no matter what the next four years bring politically, I know there will be a great need for empathy, compassion, and kindness.

I may not be able to walk in your shoes. But I can listen with compassion as you tell me about your journey through life wearing the shoes you’ve been given.

So, please give yourself a break, and try to have compassion for those around you who are doing their best.

We are all trying so hard, in our own imperfect ways.

Let’s get to work.

Actions for the week of August 18, 2020

When we’re fighting to save the post office, you know we’re not in a good spot. This is a really serious situation, and I’m glad that it’s getting all of the attention that it is getting. But let’s split our concern up into two different buckets. There’s the “the post office is a critical part of our infrastructure and destroying it will hurt people generally” bucket. And then there’s the “the post office is a critical part of voting during a pandemic (and in regular times for some states) and destroying it will impact the election” bucket.

Let’s start with actions to help save the post office for the first part of the week, then we’ll focus on actions to help ensure the impact on our election is as minimal as possible.

First: This Saturday at 11am local time, there will be actions/protests across the country to support the post office. They’re calling it “Save the Post Office Saturday,” and will be showing up at post offices to demand that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy resign. Per MoveOn: “When you sign up, you’ll be directed to a map of actions to join (masks and a physical distancing plan are required for all events) and be able to create your own! If you can’t attend or host an event, you can also show up when and where you’re able.”

Head over to MoveOn here to make your plans, or to create an action if you don’t see one: https://www.savethepostoffice.net/survey/save-the-post-office-from-trump/?

Second: Here’s one that just requires you to comment on social media. This is an easy lift, folks! On August 24, the House Oversight Committee will have a hearing about the post office. They are asking for stories about how Trump’s sabotage of the post office has impacted us directly. Tweet and tag @OversightDems on Twitter, or comment with your personal story on Rep. Jimmy Gomez’s Facebook post (HERE).

Pat yourself on the back. We’re 1/2 way through already!

Now in our last two actions, let’s take action specific to voting in 2020.

Third: Start encouraging friends that are not able to vote in person to request their absentee ballot ASAP. One national resource to be aware of and share is www.vote-absentee.com, which helps you check your registration and request a ballot. **Note, please, that if you live in Missouri you should use www.MOVote.org, which will give you the correct direct contact information for your election board and gives you the ability to sign your ballot request electronically. Vote-absentee.com does not offer that option.**

That leads me to the following point – and I really want to stress this – PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS HOLY check your own state and local rules. Voting laws differ dramatically from state to state even during regular times. Making things more complicated, in many states (like Missouri, where I am based) laws have changed regarding voting by mail just for 2020 due to COVID.

This means you SHOULD NOT simply take whatever advice you see in a meme on social media as what the law is for your jurisdiction. We have to be super vigilant here, folks, and help our friends and network through the misinformation as well.

Fourth: Another super simple one: mark your calendar for the following days:

  • Sept 1 – National Poll Worker Recruitment Day – Organized by the US Election Assistance Commission, Power the Polls, and others, this event will attempt to recruit as many people as possible to ensure that all million poll worker positions in the US are filled this year. Sign up to work the polls at your local election office, or through a partner organization like Power the Polls here: www.powerthepolls.org.
  • Sept 22 – National Voter Registration Day – A great excuse to remind everyone to update their voter registration information. Any organization or individual can sign up to be a partner with the National Voter Registration Day here. Historically, over 4,000 community orgs, companies, election administrators celebrate. Make a plan to join them and set up your own voter registration drive.
  • Oct 24 – Vote Early Day – A new event planned for the first time for 2020. While plans started before COVID, this event is even more important now. To be ready, folks should be encouraged to request mail ballots well in advance, but October 24th is after all presidential debates and should be a good time to chase all voters to return ballots or go to an in-person early vote location. Learn more at https://www.voteearlyday.org

Let’s start thinking through what we can do within our activist networks for these days, to promote voting and voter registration. We have one shot at this, so we need to give it everything we’ve got.

WHEW! GO, TEAM! SUPER PROUD OF YOU!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s