Reclaiming Empathy:

What we stand for.

Reclaiming Empathy:

Lord Toussaint , Contributor

    Civic culture in the United States is in decline. General disgust with the civic process permeates all aspects of American society and all who compose it, including children. The bullhorns of pessimistic coverage and the echo chambers of social media, amplified by discussions at home and elsewhere fill Americans with a sense of foreboding. This is rapidly creating a generation of Americans not only weary of civic engagement, but incapable of civic engagement in the traditional, American, sense of the phrase; according to a PBS poll from July, 2 in 3 Americans feel democracy is, “under threat.”

    Independent of the particulars, the sense of impending doom seems to be universal.

    A simple way of putting it is that America is experiencing an empathy deficit.

    At its core, empathy is “the ability to understand […] the feelings of another.” It is a value which Cushman has fostered for time immemorial. Yet, in a world where every difference of opinion is taken as a personal slight, America today seems devoid of empathy. Rather, the characteristics of the few define the whole, serving as an excuse for our mutual incomprehensibility at the sight of the other, an incomprehensibility which justifies an absence of empathy. A sea of labels, assumptions, and demonization engulfs our discourse as a consequence.  

    Given that differences in opinion are taken as personal slights, given the toxicity of American politics, it is no wonder that a notion of American Democracy being, “under threat,” exists. 

    Whether the fears are warranted or not, it is true that the future of a healthy American democracy depends on the revitalization of its civic culture. To aid in this revitalization, schools must be turned into environments where the pillars of the American experiment, universal values, can be reenacted in miniature. This involves sifting through the current state of affairs in order to determine which characteristics of a healthy democracy need improvement.

    It is beyond the power of educators and academic institutions to unravel the specter of mass media which seemingly conspires to foster the aforementioned sense of mutual incomprehensibility which exists in America today. 

    What educators and academic institutions can do is combat the lack of empathy.

    This involves ingraining in students the ability to think critically and the ability to sift through information, not just take things at face value. The greatest challenge to this pursuit is undeniably social media, an enterprise of which Cushman has been rightfully weary for the longest time. It is difficult to teach children to think critically, let alone to sift through content and information, when the children are constantly being fed appallingly “accurate” and seductively good looking packages of information on their Feed by an algorithm meant to dull curiosities.

    The point must be to help understand diversity in its most elusive form: thought.

    If academic institutions are to be an instrument in pursuit of this revitalization, then the civic forums of these institutions, such as student governments or this newspaper, for example, must be treated as such. 

    But, this is an understanding of the state of civic culture in the contours of the mass media which this publication so heartily criticizes.

    What of the community?

    Among interviewed students, there was a sense that the nature of their education geared them towards a general sense of optimism, but there were admissions that such optimism might fade with age.

    When asked about the future of American Democracy, the sense of optimism was unanimous, “the US is ready for anything that comes our way,” replied one student, “someone will always step up,” she added. 

    “My vote would matter,” added another. 

    On the topic of empathy in American society, another student said,“I think a majority of American citizens do empathize, but they get caught in a game, the politicians get them caught up in winning.” When pressed about whether that “game” had the potential to dash American’s empathy, she responded,”definitely, but it’s dramatized, more people are willing to hear the other side out than is perceived.” Still, “if you feel very strongly about an argument you probably won’t hear the other person out,” she conceded. 

    One common theme among students was not knowing enough to make a judgement in the first place, “I don’t know enough information to […] make an assessment,” one student admitted. 

    The curiosity exists, but as youths seek to be informed the problem of excess, one unique to the 21st century, must be addressed. There is an excess of information such that basic facts can be and are manipulated to mean completely different things. Almost anyone can claim to be “informed,” but what matters is the information’s inclination, a person’s ability to see that inclination, and, fundamentally, resisting the bent of that information. This manipulation of information is the insidious force which erodes empathy; it is the sea of labels, assumptions, and demonization that engulfs our discourse. In light of this, it will be the aim of this publication not only to foster civic discourse and culture, but also to promote civility, an offspring of empathy, in that discourse, in hopes that such comportment may become universal in the lives of our readers. 

    The basic understanding of empathy remains in our community; all the necessary improvements stem from there. 

    “Any concept that is still widely understood can be revived,” and revive we must