With each other
But we’re not the same
We get to
Carry each other
Carry each other
Today is September 11, a Day that is deemed a day of remembrance and service. Can we please have a moment of silence?
There are many different and competing ways of understanding why what happened on September 11, 2001 happened; this terribly national and global tragedy was the result of many strands, and it is hard to know which strands are most important. But I know one interpretation, that one of those strands, is the 9/11 murders represented, in a really terrible, terrible way, a failure (by terrible people, I need to add) of empathy, a failure of what I would call global empathy.
Empathy, you know, is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and intuit what that person is feeling. Global empathy, then, is the ability to do this for people very different from ourselves, people who might live in cultures and societies with very different values.
One of my very favorite novelists is Ian McEwan, author of Atonement. When he published his book Saturday, which is about the legacy of 9/11, he said this in an interview:
“Imagining yourself into the minds of other people is a fundamental human act of empathy, which lies at the base of all our moral understanding. I really don’t believe for a moment that our moral sense comes from a God. … It’s human, universal, [it’s] being able to think our way into the minds of others. What those holy fools, [the terrorists] clearly lacked was the ability to enter into the minds of the people they were being so cruel to. Amongst their crimes was a failure of the moral imagination. You cannot be cruel to someone if you fully understand what it is to be them.”
So on this day of remembrance and service, I call you to seek to strengthen your sense of empathy and global empathy. Strive to understand what it is to be someone else, try hard to see things the way they see them, to appreciate their point of view. Try to be a better listener, and try to be a better imaginer.
Improving your power of empathy is not easy. But here are two simple suggestions: First, read fiction; reading stories of other people in other places is an wonderful way to get into the head of other experiences. I don’t think people who read deeply in quality fiction murder other people. Second, serve others:—go out of your way to work with other people, to assist them in their struggles, to understand their challenges—this will build your empathy—and to promote global empathy, seek to do so with people really in different situations from your own. I am so glad to hear, as an example, that many of you will accompany Ms. Pickrell this weekend to Primavera—excellent.
September 11th was a terrible, global tragedy, and a terrible, global crime, and I don’t mean to simplify it. But I think that if we were all to improve our empathy, we would move to a world more like what U2 describes in the song One, in the lyrics at top.