Booker T. and Empathy

I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him. –Booker T. Washington

We live in time where everyday we have opportunity to become polarized by religious and political opinion and by the decisions of religious and political leaders. And if polarized, our souls are in danger of entertaining hatred toward those holding opposing views, or toward those we believe have made bad decisions. Perhaps it has always been thus. But it seems to me that global events and their local spin-offs are affecting the ether more these days.

While it pains me to say this–because I’m not as strong as Booker–what Condaleezza Rice, George Bush, Ehud Olmert and our own Stephen Harper need most, is a flood of mercy and love. Because first of all, whatever your view, left, right or transcendental, you have to agree that being in political office has got to be the hardest gig going. Secondly, if you disagree with a position, hurling words that inflame bring no lasting change. Hatred, vitriol, vehemence and force, change nothing. Only empathy changes things.

Booker T. had more reason than most of us to entertain hatred. Born into slavery, deprived of education, he endured the new wave of racism, a backlash because of Emancipation. But because of his empathy toward his oppressors he overcame these barriers to become a teacher, a principal and an advisor of presidents.

When you are empathetic with me, I hear you. If I hear you, you will change me.

The practice of empathy requires of us the simultaneous play of great love and great imagination. Things we humans are capable of because of an overarching Mercy. And that’s hope.

So while we are irresponsible if we don’t speak out on behalf of the war-torn, the poor, the disabled, the oppressed, only empathy keeps us from creating more victims. Empathy stops the chain-reaction of hate and violence while growing our own souls.

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