The Detoxing Man is Empathetic (beyond those who look and think like him)
I think of empathy as a circle, within which by default are all of the people that I love. They are my family and friends. Most people expand this circle further to include all of the people we enjoyed going to school with, the people that we are friends with on Social Media, and even those people we only talked to once but we remember fondly. Many folks will expand the circle for other types of affinity, like those people who grew up where we did or who have kids that go to the same school as ours. Still others will include things based upon looks, socioeconomic status, or nationality, making sure that those who “look and sound” the same are included in the circle of empathy.
But, that is where the circle stops for many. The circle of empathy only encompasses those with enough in common to warrant a default level of decency. Those that fall outside of the circle we treat with suspicion. It isn’t that we are bad people, it is just that if we expand our circle of empathy too much, we will get hurt. Someone who wishes to do us harm is outside of this circle, and if we treat everyone with the same respect that we treat those inside, something truly terrible will happen.
And yet, the vast majority of the world is outside of our little circle. Most people don’t look like I do. The majority of people aren’t American and don’t speak English. It is arrogant for me to think that all of the good that the world has to offer is inside of my tiny circle that excludes everything else.
So, how do I expand my circle? By consciously looking to each new person I see out in the world and asking myself, “Can I show this person empathy?” All I’m asking is whether or not I feel as though this person and I share enough humanity to offer them the same default kindness I would show to someone from my hometown.
Most often, I find that the answer is yes. In the grocery store, waiting for someone to write a check, the answer is yes. In my car as I slam on the breaks to avoid collision after the car ahead has swerved into my lane, the answer is yes. Watching someone on the news become enraged about queer novels in a library, the answer is yes.
Because my circle of empathy isn’t just big enough for the people that I agree with. My circle of empathy is big enough for the people that I will fight with because they are trying to oppress and remove rights. My empathy is not just for those who look and think like me, because when we are all in the circle, there is no us and them. We can disagree and toil and make a whole bunch of noise about how things need to change, but when we are all in the circle of empathy, we will do it together.