An Ounce Of Empathy & Two Ounces Of Brains

I am a dreamer, always have been and always will be.  When times are bad I dream of better times. When times are good I thank the Lord. I have always dreamed that every citizen of our country has at least an ounce of empathy and two ounces of brains.  I have come to doubt that belief, especially since the person in the Oval Office doesn’t even seem to pass the bill.  I guess this particular dream will have to wait a while before it can be realized.

canstockphoto18418248.jpgNow don’t misunderstand me, I don’t expect everyone to be overflowing with empathy, but another way to describe it is “brother’s keeper” and since that is a Christian term coming from the mouth of its founder I would hope that all of us who call ourselves Christians strive to get a little more empathy each day. But sadly then I see so many so-called Evangelicals who seem to be totally ignorant of caring for others and that is almost devastating.

canstockphoto5430637As far as brains are concerned I am talking about intelligence, not particularly the amount of grey matter you have. Where intelligence is concerned I follow another axiom and that is “If you don’t use it you lose it”. Each one of us should strive to become just a little more intelligent today than we were yesterday. But then I see so many of us who seemed to be ignorant on just how flawed the person is who they voted for president it dashes my dream in this area also.  With a minimal amount of study it was obvious to me just how deficient the one who they voted for was from the get go. How could so many be confused about what was totally obvious to the rest of us?

As a final thought, maybe even those born in the country need to pass a test to be citizens. As Thomas Jefferson said a democracy cannot succeed without an informed electorate.  I don’t enjoy saying “I TOLD YOU SO” after only 1/8 of his time in office but I told you so.

 

 

The World of Pretend…

2016-03-26_12-51-39.pngA good portion of my life was spent around someone who lived in a world of pretend. My mother was that person. She abandoned me, my brother, and her husband when I was about ten years old to marry someone much richer who could provide her with the luxuries she so wanted in life.  I would not have any sort of relationship with her again until twenty years later when that husband divorced her to marry his much younger secretary.

It was not until this re-introduction that I realized that she primarily lived in a world of pretend.  Reality had little to do with her mentality. She lived in a dream world of her own making. Since she left school at the age of fifteen to bare her first child it is unlikely that she ever graduated from high school. But to her that was not her reality. Throughout her life she made up stories about how she was a doctor, a head nurse at a prominent hospital, and a myriad of other occupations and circumstances.

She was pretty much a bigot and did not have much room for empathy in her life. But to show that she wasn’t she would occasionally “adopt” a person of lower standing than she perceived herself to be.  But then she would drop them as quickly as she adopted them. In reality she very seldom looked beyond herself for any reason.  I would later learn that she was the epitome of a narcissist. She lived in her own world of pretend throughout her life. Tragically, in the end she became an extremely spiteful person who looked down on everyone and everything around her. I was the only one of her four children that had any kind of a relationship with her and even that was very limited in the final year.  I think she finally discovered that the world of pretend was a cage, not a cocoon and that was devastating to her ego.

In a way I am thankful that she was in my life, it gave me a perspective of what I didn’t want to be. To counter her narcissism I went the other direction and became an empath. I purposely try to always tell things as I believe them to be. I probably do this to a fault. I just don’t want to ever want to live in a pretend world.

The world of pretend is in itself not a bad place, but when it invades and even takes over the real world it becomes a strangling cage.

 

They Deserve Their Failure….

2015-11-07_08-53-00That is the moral-ideological core of conservatism today. It presumes that life is a competition or race, that people are unequal in talent, drive, and ambition, and that those who end up on top deserve their victory and rewards — and those who come out on the bottom deserve their failure and hardships. Any attempt to overturn or even mitigate this moral order — whether through government regulation or changes in habits or assumptions in school or on the playground — amounts to an offense against justice itself.

Source: What defines conservatism today?

I want to spend a few posts in the coming week or so on morality and to a lesser degree empathy. But then to me the two are very intertwined. It often disturbs me how I see those who consistently vote Republican just don’t seem to have any sympathy for those who are not like them.  As a previous viewer of this blog frequently said I often seem to paint with too broad a brush. That is true, but it is really a matter of degree. The question is “what percentage of the GOP voters have little sympathy for others?” It is obvious that the top three GOP presidential candidates in that party all share that characteristic but how many of those who back them also share it? Is that why they back them or is it something else?

Those questions aside let’s get on to the quote above.  Is this the core of conservatism today? If it is then in my mind it has several fundamental flaws.

  • The teachings of Jesus just don’t agree with it – A large part of the “conservative” base claims to be Christian so you would think that their founders words would be extremely important to them. There are just too many places in the Christian bible where Jesus tells us to give the shirt off our back to those less fortunate than ourselves. The “What you did for the least of these you did for me” should make it totally clear that He did not believe that those on the bottom deserve their failures! He tells us to take care of the poor and homeless not to just abandon them because they made poor choices.
  • We don’t all start out the same – The above logic might make some sense if all of us were presented the same opportunities and some chose to make the most of it and some didn’t.  But that simply is not the case.  Some of us, particularly those who are from affluent families, have many more opportunities than those who are born to families stuck in minimum wage jobs or no jobs at all.
  • It doesn’t give much of a chance for improvement – The logic in the statement above seems to say that if you made the wrong choices then you are stuck at the bottom and there is nothing we who succeeded need to do to help you survive. This is clearly a “survival of the fittest” mentality and has no place in American morality.
  • It reverses the Golden Rule – “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” just doesn’t align with this supposed conservative core.

Living On The Outskirts Of Hope…

2015-09-26_17-00-20I want to pen some final words about Pope Francis here. The title of this post is a recent quote from him that truly inspires me. There are just too many people in the world to who the very idea of hope seems unknowable. They live in such despair that all they can manage is just surviving day-to-day.   It is said that Pope Francis views the world from the Bottom up. I have never thought of it in those terms but it is an accurate portrayal of him and I hope to a certain degree myself.

Most of us, especially those of us living in the U.S. view life from a top down window.   We all dream of getting rich someday so that we can buy whatever our hearts desire.  We feverishly follow tweets from all the rich and famous people dreaming to be like them someday. We seldom take time to think about those living below us and in some cases very far below us.

I know that GOP congressional leader Paul Ryan’s hero Ayn Rand called empathy a scourge of mankind and that is probably how Mr. Ryan and many of his GOP friends view mankind. They seem to deem those that have nothing are just lazy people looking for free stuff.  Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of those less fortunate than yourself. Many simply refuse to go there.

To see the leader of the biggest Christian organization in the world living with a bottom up view is inspiring indeed. I hope his empathy is addictive to all those millions who went out to see him recently.  I know that Catholic Services is one of the strongest and most active religious organizations out there. If only all of us who call ourselves Christians were actively involved in such services we might just live up to the expectations of our founder.

 

 

President Obama’s welcoming speech to Pope Francis

2015-09-23_10-14-00Your Holiness, in your words and deeds, you set a profound moral example. And in these gentle but firm reminders of our obligations to God and to one another, you are shaking us out of complacency. All of us may, at times, experience discomfort when we contemplate the distance between how we lead our daily lives and what we know to be true and right. But I believe such discomfort is a blessing, for it points to something better. You shake our conscience from slumber; you call on us to rejoice in Good News, and give us confidence that we can come together, in humility and service, and pursue a world that is more loving, more just, and more free. Here at home and around the world, may our generation heed your call to “never remain on the sidelines of this march of living hope!”

Source: President Obama’s welcoming speech to Pope Francis | Nation | CentreDaily.com

The above words are from the welcoming speech President Obama gave to Pope Francis a while ago. This speech brought me to tears. Click on the source above to see the entire speech.   If only we as a nation could embrace the message given.  But sadly I realize that there are many who presently control our congress who will do almost anything to prevent much of them from becoming reality.

The pope’s words and actions almost want me to renew my Catholic bonds that were lost so many years ago.

Empathy Is Imagining Yourself In Someone Else’s Shoes…

QE BannerSome of us seem to totally lack empathy for others. Sadly the lack of empathy seems to be almost a requirement for GOP candidates these days. I know Paul Ryan who is one of the heroes on the Republican party celebrates his common bonds with his hero Ayn Rand who made it very clear that to her empathy is a severe handicap in society rather than an asset.  Of course the lack of empathy is clearly shown by those who have voted more than fifty time to take affordable healthcare away from millions of our nation’s citizens.

Some among us just can’t or at least won’t let themselves imagine what life would be like if we were in someone else’s shoes….

Let’s get started here with two definitions from Wikipedia:

2015-02-20_11-04-23Imagination

The ability to form new images and sensations that are not perceived through senses such as sight, hearing, or other senses. Imagination helps make knowledge applicable in solving problems and is fundamental to integrating experience and the learning process.

Empathy

Empathy has many different definitions that encompass a broad range of emotional states, including caring for other people and having a desire to help them; experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions; discerning what another person is thinking or feeling; and making less distinct the differences between the self and the other.

It also is the ability to feel and share another person’s emotions. Some believe that empathy involves the ability to match another’s emotions, while others believe that empathy involves being tenderhearted toward another person. Compassion and sympathy are two terms that many associate with empathy, but all three of these terms are unique. Compassion is an emotion we feel when others are in need, which motivates us to help them. Sympathy is a feeling of care and understanding for someone in need.

Maybe you also can see the perceived link between these two states? I have run across people who just don’t have much of a sense of imagination. Maybe they just have no imagination and literally can’t imagine themselves in someone else’s shoes. Maybe they are unable to conjure up images of themselves in a different life circumstance? Gladly I am definitely not part of that crowd, if it even exists.  I seem to almost live in a world of my own imagination sometimes. I can imagine a world without war and killing. I can imagine a world where religious beliefs are found as a common bond between each of us instead of a reason to hate  and kill someone different. I can imagine a world without the violence of guns. I am a dreamer. Maybe that is how I maintain my sanity in this insane world.

What Wealth Does To Your Soul – Part 2

2015-01-02_09-01-08

With this post I will conclude my discussion about what might make the wealthy among us seem so callous to others needs. The source for these posts came as a surprise to me. Here is some more quotes from that article.

A UCLA neuroscientist named Keely Muscatell has published an interesting paper showing that wealth quiets the nerves in the brain associated with empathy: If you show rich people and poor people pictures of kids with cancer, the poor people’s brains exhibit a great deal more activity than the rich people’s. (An inability to empathize with others has just got to be a disadvantage for any rich person seeking political office, at least outside of New York City.) “As you move up the class ladder,” says Keltner, “you are more likely to violate the rules of the road, to lie, to cheat, to take candy from kids, to shoplift, and to be tightfisted in giving to others. Straightforward economic analyses have trouble making sense of this pattern of results.”… THERE IS AN OBVIOUS chicken-and-egg question to ask here. But it is beginning to seem that the problem isn’t that the kind of people who wind up on the pleasant side of inequality suffer from some moral disability that gives them a market edge. The problem is caused by the inequality itself: It triggers a chemical reaction in the privileged few. It tilts their brains. It causes them to be less likely to care about anyone but themselves or to experience the moral sentiments needed to be a decent citizen…. There is a growing awareness that the yawning gap between rich and poor is no longer a matter of simple justice but also the enemy of economic success and human happiness. It’s not just bad for the poor. It’s also bad for the rich. It’s funny, when you think about it, how many rich people don’t know this. But they are not idiots; they can learn. SOURCE:What wealth does to your soul – The Week.

I’m still not convinced that the lack of empathy is a result of a chemical change in the brain but it is interesting to think about that possibility. What happens if the rich person looses all his wealth? Will empathy come back? I kind of believe that it is more of a learned thing or maybe one of a rationalization based on greed. Yeah this is kind of chicken/egg thing. Which came first the riches or the lack of empathy?

My empathy is such an important part of my life I can’t imagine someone who doesn’t embrace it in themselves. It just seems too cold and callous to think only of yourself. To me that wouldn’t be a life worth living.

The gap between the rich and the poor grows daily now and since the rich have consumed almost all of the political and economic power it will only get worse unless something radical changes it. Wall Street is driven almost totally to providing profits to their share owners. There is little regard for workers in today’s world. As the highlighted area says I don’t think the rich are idiots but I can’t fathom why they don’t understand that when you put a stranglehold on consumers by not letting them share in the prosperity you endear you are drying up the well that give you your wealth.

What wealth does to your soul

One thing that has struck me and so many others as a very deadly thing to our country is the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. Another is how many in the rich category seem to be uncaring and even callous to those who don’t have the luxury that they have.

That fact struck me at a personal level when we were recently on a visit with some relatives. I know the age old mantra to not discuss religion or politics at family get-togethers but sometimes we foolishly ignore that advice. During some discussions with a niece the rich/poor gap came up. She basically started railing about all “those” people who are milking the welfare system. She seemed to totally reject the idea that not everyone who needs help are freeloaders.  My niece has a pretty good job that supports her husband and child with many luxuries in life. She is by no means rich but she also doesn’t have to worry much about day-to-day expenses. So when recently I came across this article it got my immediate attention. Here are some snippets:

2015-01-02_09-01-08WHAT IS CLEAR about rich people and their money — and becoming ever clearer — is how it changes them. A body of quirky but persuasive research has sought to understand the effects of wealth and privilege on human behavior — and any future book about the nature of billionaires would do well to consult it… The people driving expensive cars were four times more likely to cut in front of other drivers than drivers of cheap cars. The researchers then followed the drivers to the city’s crosswalks and positioned themselves as pedestrians, waiting to cross the street. The drivers in the cheap cars all respected the pedestrians’ right of way. The drivers in the expensive cars ignored the pedestrians 46.2 percent of the time — a finding that was replicated in spirit by another team of researchers in Manhattan, who found drivers of expensive cars were far more likely to double-park… There is plenty more like this to be found, if you look for it. A team of researchers at the New York State Psychiatric Institute surveyed 43,000 Americans and found that, by some wide margin, the rich were more likely to shoplift than the poor. Another study, by a coalition of nonprofits called the Independent Sector, revealed that people with incomes below 25 grand give away, on average, 4.2 percent of their income, while those earning more than 150 grand a year give away only 2.7 percent. 

SOURCE:What wealth does to your soul – The Week.

The behavior exhibited by my niece is what I call “I’ve Got Mine So Screw You”. There are many people who just don’t seem to care about those who are much worse off than they are. I guess it didn’t surprise me too much that those same people are more likely to treat others in a subservient manner. They are also likely to keep more for themselves than to give to others.  They are simply the Takers instead of the Givers…

On the next post we will delve into some of the surprising findings of just why this trait is applicable to so many of the “better offs” among us. I want to close here by narrowing my brush and say that not all who are wealthy are greedy, careless people. Many give very much of themselves and their money…

I Can't Do It For Them….

2014-11-06_09-28-42This is going to be an extremely soul-searching post for me. It has been a week since the GOP route in the mid-term elections and I have been thinking about my philosophical and political leanings. Two things seem now apparent to me that were not so just a few short months ago.

The first epiphany  is that I am not so much a Democrat as I am anti-Republican. There is just too much weight amongst the current Republican party in favor of the elite and so little for the average guy and almost nothing for the guy down on his luck. In my mind too many who currently represent the party believe in the mantra “I’ve got mine so screw you”. They seem to think that if you can’t do what they did then it is your own fault. Too many, like Mr. Ryan of Wisconsin, just have no empathy for others..

The Republican brand is quite simply tainted too much for me. I call myself a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. If only the Republican party would stick to their strengths of being a watchdog of the purse and get away from trying to enforce, or you could say mandate, various versions of 19th century morals on the rest of us. By the same token if only the Democratic party would get over the idea that throwing money at any situation will solve it.

The second epiphany is that I have come to understand that “I can’t do it for them”. That is I can’t help people who won’t help themselves. The majority of those who bothered to get out and vote recently were old and white like me. The young, the disenfranchised, the guy working one or maybe minimum wage job stayed home. He/she didn’t see it worth their time to make an effort to vote for the change makers.

I am probably a typical “bleeding heart liberal” in that most of the change I would like to see in this country would not affect me very much:

I want to see everyone have healthcare while I currently have very good coverage via Medicare and an affordable supplemental policy.

I want to see everyone who works full-time be paid a living wage while I am fortunate enough to have Social Security, a good pension from thirty years with the same company, and a savings account beyond most my age.

I want to see a strong safety net under those who might fall on hard times. I want to see that their families don’t get severely punished for something they had no control over while I, at least in my adult life, have never needed a safety net.

I just overflow with empathy for others where it seems most in this country are more into the survival of the fittest mode. Maybe empathy is a condition I need to overcome, I don’t know. I’m sure that many that I advocate for think they are helpless in changing things. They just can’t seem to realize that in the end their vote  has as much weight as the billionaires who they presently allow to control the money.

Maybe it is time for me to get off my empathy horse and not worry about all this stuff so much. I simply don’t know the answer to that right now. I imagine I have about one more decade on this earth. Maybe I should spend it differently than I have been up till now?

But I’m just a simple guy so what do I know….

 

It’s All About Empathy….

On my self description to the right here I claim to be a passionate altruist. I want to expand on that statement and also ponder those who seem to have an opposite view of the world. First let’s look at a couple of definitions:

Altruism — the quality of unselfish concern for the welfare of others

Empathy —  understanding and entering into another’s feelings

These two descriptions are a major part of my being.  I unashamedly shed  tears when I witness those who are struggling through life with one affliction or another.  While mine has not been nearly as severe as others I can most often put myself into their shoes and understand their struggles.  The second thing that is paramount to my being is my belief that Jesus Christ came to earth to teach me how to have life and have it to its fullest.  Also to the right I claim to be a “follower of Jesus”. That is I am totally convinced that he intends us to follow his examples and teaching while we are on this earth. I’m not sure which came first, they both appear to be part of my nature.

When others are concentrating on celebrities, sports jocks, or others of authority or wealth I am watching waiters, manual laborers, especially those trapped in a minimum wage job.  While others rail against all those “takers” out there I am doing what I can to help those in need. Yes, I recognize that a small minority of people who are on various public welfare roles are gaming the system to get something they don’t need or deserve but I will never be willing to deny help to all the ones who truly need it in order to prevent those few from taking advantage of the system.

I see so many self-proclaimed Christians out there that let their fear control their behavior in this regard. But then again I also see far too many who focus on God’s supposed wrath rather than his love.  I see God loving every being that he created and wanting all to eventually come to him while others see a god who is watching them every second to find an excuse for condemning them to an eternity of pain and extreme suffering.  I guess our worldviews are dictated by which man-made version of God we believe in.  As for me I will alway live in the shadow of a loving God not in fear of a god of wrath and vengeance .

Concern for others, hopefully always above self but aware that that is not always the case, and understanding another’s feelings is my driving force in life. I could just not live in that other worldview of fear and hatred especially when it comes to my spiritual self.  I will try to understand that those who follow the opposite tract are mostly living in fear instead of love. I will always try to pray that they someday will understand that and give themselves over to the light that is within all of us….

This was a very deep and emotional post for me but for some reason I needed to say it….

Group Pictures…

Bedford Picture Merge3

For some unknown reason I have always been fascinated by group pictures such as shown in my revised header above and a larger copy here. I love looking at each individual face and trying to imagine their life story.  In studying local history such as from the picture above I have come to understand just how hard previous generations have it compared to ours. It makes me appreciate all that I have today.

We must remember that our grandparents, or maybe great grandparent, often time worked a twelve-hour day six days a week to just put bread on the table for their family. I suspect that many in the picture above due to working around limestone came down with emphysema and other such lung related problems.  Many, like their coal miner brethren, likely died of lung cancer.  There is still a very strong limestone industry just south of where I live. But I am sure that their employer now takes the necessary precautions to prevent such dangerous environments that those in this picture faced.

I am not much of a collector as such.  I do have a few “Simplify” signs strewn around my study that I have been collecting for a decade or so.  I am now on the lookout for pictures like the above.  I take digital copies where I can but I would really like to gather some of the old originals. I have had that opportunity in the past but sadly didn’t take advantage of it.

For some reason I look at group pictures and have a sense of empathy for all those who posed in front of a camera many years ago. I think that is one of the reasons I have such a passion for local histories.  During the past twelve years my wife and I have made at least one annual trek to various cities within a day or two driving distance. We spend much of our time there studying its history. I have collected many books and such and I will soon be presenting in a new blog. For those who might be interested I will be  giving you more info about this new project soon.

In order to appreciate what we have today we must understand how those who have lived before us helped shape our present world.

The Two Faces of Paul Ryan….

I have spent the better part of a week looking at the new vice presidential candidate for the GOP. Up until now I was not familiar with him other than superficially. This will be the last post in this area so I am going to try to summarize what I have learned about the man.

  • Paul Ryan is definitely a passionate person who is true to his principles  taught to him by his heroes in life such as Ayn Rand who says money is the source of all good and altruism is stupid. I’m also sure he thinks each one of his ideas is somehow for the greater good of the country.
  • As shown by his recent convention speech he is a very articulate person to much the same degree as Barak Obama but at the exact opposite end of the political spectrum.
  • He adamantly supported the stimulus packages of President Bush in both 2002 and 2008 but when a Democratic president was just continuing the same it somehow became totally wrong to him.  Everything he supported during the Bush years are now somehow unacceptable.  That seems highly partisan to me and that is not something I want to continue seeing in our elected leaders in the coming years.
  • His budget proposal that he claims is compassionate is totally rejected by his faith leaders in the Catholic church as very uncaring for the least among us.
  • 62% of his proposed budget cuts for 2012 comes from cuts to the country’s safety net. This is hard to take especially when at the same time he is proposing big additional increases in our already very blotted military spending. Since we spend about forty times more than any other country on our war machine he seems to be a hawk to the nth degree.
  • He plays politics with the best of them. He gets people from the other party on board by promising things that he then leaves them out of his proposed bill when it is submitted. He then wonders why the colleagues who he betrayed object to his calling his bill bipartisan. These types of actions show he can’t be trusted to keep his word.
  • His original proposal for “fixing” Medicare was to give seniors a limited voucher to buy private insurance. If the private carrier even agreed to offer them insurance they would end up paying thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for less coverage than their current Medicare plan. Because of the huge backlash he modified his plan somewhat but given his propensity to got back on his word I think we have to assume that the first option if it could be passed is his preference.
  • He is a favorite of the radical fringe Tea Party. This alone says much about his spirit of compassion and compromise.
  • But maybe worst of all is that he seems to enthusiastically want to toss aside the people at the lower end of our society in order for the upper echelons to prosper even more.  Ayn Rand, who is his hero taught him well in that area.
  • Finally, I’m sure Mr. Ryan is a good family man who loves his wife and children but he seems to lack even a basic empathy for so many others.

At the end of this week-long investigation I still don’t understand why my clergy friend from the past reveres him so.  On the surface Mr. Ryan seems like a nice guy but when you look at his other face he has a very narrow and seemingly dark view of life.

There are three qualities I believe must be used to judge a person’s character. One is his spiritual side; does he have a moral compass? The second is who are his heroes in life are and the third is whether he is true to his word; in other words can he be trusted? Even from this cursory study of Mr. Ryan I don’t see a lot about him in any of these three categories that entices me to vote the GOP ticket this time around.