Friday, April 2, 2010

Empathy from Left Field

I love a good challenge, and Helen Smith’s recent article immediately called my attention. As someone who’s dedicating my life, in part, to increasing empathy all around in the culture, I found some of her comments painful, because they matched my own experience with liberals.

The Missing Empathy for the Right
In the social circles in which I find myself, and in much of the Left media, conservatives are regularly referred to as stupid (at best), backward, uncaring, or unevolved. At every opportunity I have, especially in my workshops, I invite people to look at what might be the underlying values behind conservative positions, to imagine how a decent fellow human could arrive at such opposing views. I wish I could contradict Helen Smith, but my experience only confirms what she says.

I see a complete dearth of genuine, open-hearted empathy towards conservatives. I regularly hear jokes at the expense of conservatives in my workshops, and I cringe. I am not conservative myself. Far from it! I find most liberals to be more conservative than me. I cringe because if I were a conservative, I would not experience Nonviolent Communication communities hospitable. I worked for several years with volunteers who are part of the campaign to create a department of peace in the US. They have not been able to cross the Democrat-Republican divide. As I see it, the obstacle was not the Republicans, but rather the challenge these activists had in being able to hear their opponents, listen with respect and care, imagine their values and deeper longings and aspirations, and be open to be affected by what they hear. What is dialogue, after all, if we are expecting others to change their views, positions, or strategies, without a comparable willingness on our part to be affected and changed by what we hear?

(tomorrow – more on cultivating empathy)