I found this article recently, and was fascinated. I believe that I have these six habits, and I never considered the connection between cultivating empathetic habits and my dedication to social justice.
These six habits are:
Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers
Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
Habit 3: Try another person’s life
Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up
Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change
Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination
So what is empathy and why is it important?
Empathy is the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another sentient or fictional being. One may need to have a certain amount of empathy before being able to experience compassion (Wikipedia).
The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships (From Six Habits of Highly Empathetic People).
In order to solve the world’s most pressing problems, we must be personally involved in the process leading to the outcome. Gone are the days of looking down at the “poor” and designing programs for their “own good”. We live in a world that is more interconnected and interdependent than we know, and as long as there is oppression, enormous inequality, and hierarchical hegemonies in this world, we are all subject to violations of human rights and dignity. I look to my historical role models who were all outstanding activists, some of whom personally experienced what they fought to end, and others who could have kept their heads down and mouths shut. Yet they still chose to stand up, speak out, and try to make a difference. John Hossack was a white farmer in the 19th century who believed in the abolition of slavery and spoke out against the fugitive slave law. He and his family built a harbor for runaway slaves, and he openly rescued a runaway slave from general custody. He was arrested, convicted, and eventually separately murdered for his beliefs.
Here, I quote him. “When He that directs the steps of men conducts a poor, oppressed, panting fugitive to my door, and there I hear his bitter cry, I dare not close my ear against it, lest in my extremity I cry for mercy and shall not be heard. Sir, this law so flagrantly outrages the divine law that I ought not be sentenced under it… My feelings are at home. My wife and my children are dear to my heart. But, sir, I have counted the cost. I am ready to die, if need be, for the oppressed of my race. But slavery must die, and when my country shall have passed through the terrible conflict which the destruction of slavery must cost, and when the history of the great struggle shall be candidly be written, the rescuers of Jim Grey will be considered as having done honor to God, to humanity, and to themselves.”
John Hossack said that no man is free until all men are free. There are forces at work in the world today trying to enslave humanity to despots, dogmas, governments and unjust laws. These must still be fought.