I love Barack Obama, and I am not afraid to admit it! Well… maybe I am afraid a little bit because someone might start cussing me out before they take the time to understand what I mean. By the time you finish reading this post, I hope you will want to say “I love Barack Obama too!”
There is an alarming trend that I have noticed, even among conservative Catholics, to completely demonize anyone with whom they disagree on a serious issue. I get the feeling that for many people, Obama, Pelosi, Biden, anyone who works at Planned Parenthood, anyone in the homosexual lobby, and a host of others are not even viewed as people, but rather simply and more sinisterly as “the enemy”. I fear that when we ignore the motivations and reasons our “enemies” have for opposing us, we abandon one of the chief marks of being a Christian.
Are we not called to love our enemies? First and foremost, this means hoping they get to Heaven–we must desire their salvation, but in the here and now, we need to make an effort to empathize with them as well. That means being able to put ourselves in their shoes. I don’t know about all of you, but I am personally a terrible sinner, and I find it impossibly hard to think of myself as any better than anyone else I meet.
I don’t find it hard to imagine that had I been brought up differently, I might be an atheist, or in favor of abortion, or even anti-American. If I had been born and raised in an Islamic household in Syria, I might even be an ISIS supporter. I think anyone who cannot imagine themselves in the shoes of their enemies, has a remarkably poor and pathetically underdeveloped imagination.
I get so frustrated with modern political “debate” in which both sides talk past each other, not even trying to address the other’s points, but only trying to score approval points with the crowd. Democrats and Republicans are equally to blame. It feels like the idea of a noble statesman has died, and it is precisely because of the unwillingness to work with or sympathize with politicians on the other side of the aisle. Talking past a person with whom you disagree is in itself an act of dehumanizing that person. It is like we have given up trying to win over our adversary and are simply and desperately trying to win over the undecideds.
I want to propose some practical ways we can fight the War on Empathy and halt its progress.
1) Whenever you hear something bad about another person, especially a person whom you oppose on serious issues, don’t be so quick to believe it!
The internet is flooded with rumors, implications, and outright lies. It is truly alarming. The more terrible something sounds, the more you need to question it! I suspect that if some disreputable internet site floated the story that there is “evidence” that President Obama had murdered someone while he was a senator, there would be thousands of people who would believe it without another thought. You can’t stop others from lying, but you can stop yourself from being gullible.
2) Always assume that someone else is trying to do the right thing (unless you have conclusive evidence to the contrary).
Even people who do terrible things generally don’t think of themselves as monsters. They might simply be rationalizing bad behavior, but the human mind has a huge capacity to alter its own perception of right and wrong over time. Assuming good intentions is generally a safe bet. The majority of wrong done in the world is not done from malice, but from ignorance. This isn’t the same as knowing someone has good intentions, it is simply giving them the benefit of a doubt.
3) Identify some honest good things your “enemy” does.
Even the most evil person in the world does some good as well. Morality maybe black and white, but people are not just bad or good. That kind of thinking is more dangerous than I can say. It is certainly not just, and it is the furthest thing from Christian mercy. By finding some good in others, you are not excusing the wrong they do, but you are creating a fuller image of a real human being and not a caricature. If you fail to see both the good and the bad, you are essentially lying to yourself, and the person that hurts the most is you.
4) Imagine yourself in their shoes.
The better you understand what motivates your opponent, the safer you will be. You cannot effectively oppose what you do not understand. This is true both on a battlefield and in an intellectual debate. You have to ask yourself, how they would handle new situations, but you also have to understand how they came to oppose you in the first place. Can you figure out how it was they arrived at their position? Can you figure out the right argument to change their mind?
5) Pray for your enemy.
There shouldn’t be a single person, alive or dead, that you hope is going to hell. Our Lord says that the path to Hell is easy and many people travel that path, but there is no worse fate for any man. It might be inevitable that someone ends up there, but if you hope any specific person ends up there, you might find yourself keeping them company. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Love is the true mark of being a Christian. It doesn’t simply mean loving those who will love you back, it means loving every single person, even those you don’t like. Failing to empathize with our fellow man forces us further and further from God. God created Barack Obama and loves him more than we can comprehend. Who are we to hate what God loves so much? Who are we to hate anyone?
We have to oppose evil when we find it, and always speak up for the truth, but every person is of infinite value and dignity. We need to fight ideas–not demonize people. Even when we disagree with others, we are called to love them.
We must do whatever we can to end the War on Empathy. We must love Barack Obama.
Photo CC: Orin Zebest
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