The promise of America requires empathy

I hope you’re doing well, and that you’re able to be as safe as possible right now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about America lately. What America is, what it isn’t, and what it could (and should) be.

America is a promise. It’s a promise that a free society can work with all sorts of people. That we can come together to form one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

How much of that statement do you actually believe about our country? 

Liberty and justice…for all? When those words were written, if you were a person of color or a female, you did not share the same liberty and justice as white men. Most of the authors and signers literally owned other people. 

Right from the start there was a disingenuousness that simply cannot be ignored. 

Indivisible? Hardly. We can’t even come together around wearing masks to fight a deadly virus.

One thing I’ve come to learn, however, is that even though we’re a mess, that doesn’t mean that America isn’t worth fighting for. 

Over the last few years, like many of you I’m guessing, I found myself quite down at one point. At many points, actually. But one time in particular I posted something on some social channel about how I was feeling, and a good friend (who’s now running for City Council President, please consider supporting him!) sent me a text and said, “I don’t know how to handle a down Hilimire. Let me know how I can help.”

When we spoke, he reminded me about the power of the American promise. And even though the words the founding fathers wrote were certainly not true then, and are still not today, the spirit of them is something we can aspire toward. And quite simply, no other country is trying to do this, so it’s worth fighting for.

That said…

America requires EMPATHY to have a chance of working

If you lack empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – then how can you possibly believe in “justice for all”? Without empathy, you believe in “justice for me and (in some cases) mine”. 

It’s the reason people should have been wearing a mask during COVID. Not for you, but so you don’t infect others. Wearing a mask only feels pointless or “unconstitutional” if you can’t imagine for a moment that you might get someone else sick and affect their life.

Case in point

Last summer, we bought a Black Lives Matter sign and put it up in our yard. It is still there today. 

A few times we’ve had someone put a letter in our mailbox talking about how terrible we were for having that sign, how “blue lives” and “all lives” matter, and how we should be ashamed of ourselves. 

It didn’t bother me that much, and honestly, I expected someone to steal it at some point. Luckily, that hasn’t happened. Yet.

One day during the peak of the pandemic, we had our groceries delivered to our front door. We were (and still are given the Delta variant) very cautious about anyone in our family catching COVID, as two of our children have serious health conditions. On top of being a potentially deadly virus on it’s own, the risks to those two children are simply too great.

The person who delivered our groceries was a black woman. She knocked after setting the groceries down and I came to the door where we exchanged a wave and I called out a “Thank you!” as she made her way back down our walkway. 

After a few minutes, she came back to the door and knocked. I walked back out and she said to me through her mask, “Thank you for believing that my life matters.”

I can’t remember what I said in response, but what I do remember is standing there crying for several minutes as she pulled away.

Even though I have the sign, I still can’t appreciate what it feels like to believe your life does not matter as much as other people’s. My heart hurt for her in ways I simply can’t explain.

Fast-forward many months later…

I received a text from a relative. Frankly, I didn’t even know he had my cell number, so this would consistute our very first text exchange. In his text, he shared a graphic of crime increasing in Buckhead since 2020. (Complete with a big Fox News logo in the bottom right corner.) His message stated that this crime was one of the “unintended consequences” of supporting BLM, and it was probably time to take down the sign in my yard. We have never talked about race, or crime, and he hasn’t been to my house since I put up the BLM sign last year. 

I did not respond, because…what do you say to that? I’m not going to change his mind any more than he’s going to change mine, and I have better ways to spend my time fighting against racism (like helping to found The A Pledge). Instead, I made a donation to Black Lives Matter (I wanted to make it in his name because I’m petty like that, but alas, the site doesn’t allow it). 

The Point

It’s not that hard. It’s really not. If my relative could spend just 30 minutes with the woman who came to my door, I’m certain his heart would start to evolve. If he could hear her story and try to imagine what her life is like, he wouldn’t be able to help but start to rethink his views on such things.

Terence Lester, a social justice advocate, author, entrepreneur, and friend, has taught me that, “Proximity Changes Everything”. The closer people can be to one another, the more empathy is created.

And this country – no, this world – cannot work the way we want it to without empathy.

I hope you’re happy,

Jeff