Je Suis Paris: The Empathy Wars

Yesterday's Paris attacks broke my heart. Any instance in which citizens are killed, going about their daily business in the city, is a profound, unmatched sort of violence. 

I loved peering through our living room window here in Brooklyn and watching One World Trade Center light up in solidarity.

And then I was pained to log onto social media and see empathy wars raging. 

Some activists were quick to point out that similar events had happened in Beirut. 
That is true - but it doesn't discount or disqualify one or the other. One doesn't deserve more grief than the other. And - my main line these days - that kind of thinking accidentally alienates the people the progressive movement is trying to speak to. 

I think some of us on the Left have Insufficiency Fatigue. Our empathy is insufficient, our thoughts too small, our choices too rotary, our food too inorganic. There is always more to be stretched, more to do, more to think. Which is beautiful - but is also exhausting. 

I'm going to just say it; I'm too old to skirt around this stuff, and appease the extreme activists that define our movement. #Realtalk -  empathy starts somewhere. Movements start somewhere. Fourteen years ago, the kneejerk American response to terrorism was to "stick a boot up the ass". It was jingoism, it was racial profiling, it was war without end. Today, there is a startling amount of empathy for the French - more compassion, and less expletives. That is progress. 

Leftist media punished France empathy because it "excluded" empathy for Beirut and other places. Here's the fact: very few Americans knew about those attacks, because the American mainstream media doesn't cover them. Which is a problem. 

But I think if you want to  change hearts and minds here in the U.S., you don't hand-slap compassion. Of any form, to anyone. If we want to teach peace and not war to the mainstream, we don't harp on each other, and whose sadness is politically correct. We don't blame people for not stating something they didn't even know about. 

If we want to build empathy as a cultural characteristic in the U.S. (which would be huge, and get at inequity and lots of other issues), we start where we are. Any counselor, facilitator, therapist or consultant worth their salt will tell you - you start with where people are. You're not going anywhere if you don't. 

I can identify with a French citizen who is shot out and about in the city. Who is a mother, just trying to buy groceries and make dinner and tend to her family. I'm that "infidel". I'd be that person who happens to get razed and never come home again, just for walking down the street at the wrong time.  

That is profoundly moving to me. It is also profoundly moving that this happens in Lebanon. My brother in law's mother lives there. This is terrifying. There is no other word for it.

The hard truth is, most Americans are going to see themselves in the French. As members of a Western secular, multi-ethnic democracy. That's just the reality.  It isn't good, or bad - it just is. 

All of these events - Beirut, Paris, and elsewhere - are horrific. But so is our attempt to snuff one out to bolster up another. Empathy is a sacred emotion. Prayer is a sacred practice. Let's feel both of those for everyone, everywhere - and then turn off our lights, and call it a night.