A Common Call for Empathy

My husband wrote a remarkable blog post today,  reflecting on the media’s coverage of the bombing in Boston. In the post, he expresses the need to treat every death, every injustice, every senseless act of violence with the same sadness, despair, and anguish, regardless of the victim/perpetrator’s color, religion, or origin.

I couldn’t agree more.

Sadly, over the last few days it has come to my attention, mostly by clicking links on friends’ FB postings, that not everyone feels the same. One blog post especially comes to mind, in which the author states that she cannot feel the sadness she should feel at seeing the senseless acts of violence of both Sandy Hook and Boston, because the victims are white. She goes on to say that she dislikes this about herself; however, white liberals are to blame because they do not treat the persistent, senseless deaths of minority inner city children or third world children the same as they do white, blonde, American children.

I certainly don’t disagree with her latter point. It is a deep shame, and an enormous blight on America, that we do exactly what she excuses us of: we ignore, play down, shrug off, disengage from the fact that children die every single day in this world from beyond-senseless acts of violence. And that sometimes, sometimes, political acts that America institutes or supports are even responsible for those deaths. But that isn’t what this post is about.

Instead, it’s about the sadness this woman’s post made me feel. Sadness because 1) the author is correct about many things she reports, and 2) because she says she cannot feel sadness over the senseless death of white children unless or until white liberals treat minority deaths with the same outrage they treat the death of white American children.

It is always, always a personal choice how we respond to tragedy. Sometimes we don’t want to alter our response: What if Kermit Gosnell gets the death penalty? Well, I may be against the death penalty (I am!), but I probably won’t shed too many tears if his sentence is one of death. I will pray for his soul, but since I am a broken person myself, it would take a superhuman effort for me to dredge up enough sympathy to feel a whole lot of remorse for him.

But why? A life is a life and a death is a death. Do we respect and value human life or not? If we do–if *I* do–I should care deeply, even about someone who has committed so many horrific acts. If I don’t care deeply, I cannot blame anyone but myself.

My sadness is not aimed at a particular person–I am using this author’s blog post as a jumping off point–but is rather a global sadness that the global “we” cannot feel the sadness and despair that we should over every single senseless act of violence and loss of life, and that we blame that inability to feel on others.

Perhaps we say it’s the fault of white liberals. Or perhaps we say it’s because we cannot feel sympathy for someone who repeatedly commits infanticide. Or it’s because “those people” are Muslim, or live so far away, or because they “choose” to bring violence into their neighborhoods.

But really, if we cannot feel heart wrenching despair over every child lost, it is no one’s fault but our own.

This isn’t to finger point. It is instead to say that we are all fallen, broken individuals in need of grace and a good self-talking to. Forgiveness, love, peace…. these things should be in our lives abundantly, indiscriminately, passionately. I try daily to make that a reality in my life, and it is very, very difficult. I usually fail because I am not superhuman. But we cannot even begin to hope for success if we continue to shift the blame to anyone other than ourselves.