Tag Archives: empathy

The Rise of Homo Avarus

Homo Avarus - Greedy Man

Any Doubt This is How it Will Play Out?

I think it’s time we recognized there is a new species of primate in the neighborhood. We, of course, are quite familiar with our own species, Homo Sapiens (Wise Man), currently recognized as the only non-extinct species of hominid in the genus Homo. However, recent events make it quite clear there is a huge number of so-called humans who are not “wise” at all; they are self-centered and, apparently, lacking in decency and empathy for anyone not exactly like them.

These people just elected the most unqualified, inept, and uniquely hateful man to the highest office in the land, President of the United States. Only a few days after the election, his “victory” is already resulting in a significant uptick in hate crimes and bullying. He is appointing some of the worst people to ever disgrace public office in our country, and he is planning on actions that will set our progress as a people back 50 years.

This is, of course, what was always meant by the slogan “Make America Great Again.” By great, we know the real meaning of that slogan to be “let’s take America back to the 1950s, when people we don’t like (those of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, disabled people, and other “others”) were relegated to the background and expected to stay there and quietly accept their positions as second-class citizens . . . or not.

What he has proposed, and what he is no doubt beginning to set into motion will be the greatest reversal of progress on human rights within our country we’ve seen in quite some time. His administration is already preparing legislation that will make it possible to discriminate against people because of their “religious objections” to their lifestyle. He’s floating names of Cabinet posts and department heads that are an absolute nightmare for anyone with a working brain and a conscience; Ben Carson for Secretary of Education, Sarah Palin for Secretary of the Interior. It feels almost hyperbolic to take those appointments as serious and well-reasoned.

I suspect he, and those he will have in his administration, have been emboldened by people who are either reasonably clueless or who are so selfish and incapable of empathy, they just don’t care how much destruction this man will wreak on the most vulnerable. As long as they get back their “sense” of control and privilege, how it affects others is of no consequence.

Although I think this represents a tragic misunderstanding of how interrelated we, as both citizens and non-citizens, are in keeping the economy strong and growing, a singular lack of empathy seems to be the driving force behind his popularity and (what I hope will turn out to be) pyrrhic victory. For these reasons, I suggest we recognize a new species of human, one that is solely concerned with itself and only interested in the well-being of others if it directly affects their safety and comfort. In other words, Homo Avarus; greedy man.

Little do they know they’ve been massively punked, and are about to find out just what kind of carnival barker they’ve put into the most powerful position on Earth. It’s going to get ugly, and it’s little consolation to know that those who enabled this man are going to pay a heavy price as well. Stay strong, my brothers and sisters. I was hopeful we were going to move forward, but that is clearly not the case. We are now faced with what may be the greatest challenge of our lives, certainly of my nearly 70 years on this planet. We need to figure out how not merely organize, but also how to educate and how to teach ourselves and others to sift through the mountain of garbage that passes for information and reporting via the mainstream media and even much of the virtual media we consume via Facebook and Twitter. We have an enormous job facing us, one I don’t expect to see the result of in my lifetime. <sigh>


How Do You Talk To Children?

Came across this on Facebook and wanted to share it. I have seen adults doing these very things; in fact, I believe I’ve been guilty of it myself, though I make every effort to be engaged with children, especially my own.

I recently attended a new school orientation, as my 12-year-old is beginning 7th grade and it is her first encounter with middle school – we chose to keep her in her elementary school through the 6th grade, which we believed was useful for her special needs. I was very encouraged by the welcoming and uplifting tone everyone at the school took when dealing with the children. Better yet, my daughter’s 1st grade teacher is now the Director of Student Services at her middle school, and my wife told me she’s the only teach she had who didn’t complain about our daughter. Encouraging.

Take a look at this video and see if you recognize anyone; yourself or your child’s teachers or some of the administrative staff at any school. They’re not all like this, not by a long shot, but it’s important to keep in mind how easy it is to dismiss children and affect them in ways that will stay with them; possibly for their entire lives.


Donald Trump Stoops to a New Low

In an interesting bit of twisted logic, Donald Trump believes the reporter he recently mocked, Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a musculoskeletal disorder that affects the use of his arms, owes him an apology for accusing him of lying about seeing “thousands and thousands” of American Muslims in New Jersey cheering as the Trade Towers came down.

Mr. Trump, and who knows how many millions of supporters, seem to think he can be an effective leader of the United States and what we euphemistically refer to as the “free world” when, in fact, he would likely be a tin-pot dictator whose election would seal the coffin on the Constitution and whatever residual respect we may have with the international community.

He has, single-handedly, resurrected the term “Fascist Pig” and given it life it hasn’t seen since the Vietnam War. We should all be thankful he’s seen fit to clearly demonstrate his unfitness to represent more than a small slice of the diverse population of the United States of America. The last thing this country needs is a cowardly, narcissistic bully who thinks the world revolves around him.

via Donald Trump Demands Disabled Reporter He Mocked APOLOGIZE To Him «.


Let’s Bite Off Our Noses To Spite Our Faces

It seems to me that anyone who really cares about their country, who is a genuine patriot, has to care for everyone. Life is NOT a zero-sum game, where the gains enjoyed by others are a loss to you and yours. No, life and human society are highly complex, interdependent systems where every part has a role to play, and when we don’t provide optimal conditions for the health and well-being of some of the parts, the whole body suffers. Would you want your car’s engine to go without one of its spark plugs? While it would still get you to where you were going, it wouldn’t do it as efficiently, nor as effectively. In the end, it would almost certainly cost more to deal with the results of an imbalance in the engine than it would to ensure all its components were kept in good working order.

Yet many approach life as though they are living on an island. It’s difficult to fathom the level of insensitivity, blindness to reality, and the callous lack of empathy it takes to turn one’s back on people who may not directly affect your life in a way you can feel immediately, but who nevertheless impact the organizations and institutions you deal with all the time.

For instance, by not ensuring all children receive healthcare, adequate nutrition, and early education, we ensure our up and coming workforce will be less prepared than they otherwise could be for the kinds of jobs that will be available in the near future. The net result is we not only handicap those children, we also handicap their families, their friends, and the entire nation. By guaranteeing they need more help for far longer than might otherwise be the case, we add to both their burden and ours.

We hobble ourselves with mistaken, outdated, unsupportable notions that give far more importance to diversity as a bad thing; as something that takes away from our sense of worth, of self. Instead of understanding, celebrating, and taking advantage of all the ways in which we complement and enhance each other, too many of us turn those virtues into imaginary vices and use them to divide and separate us. What a pity.


More Softiness!

Yesterday I posted my thoughts about empathy and kind of wondered aloud why I find it easy to get so deeply immersed in a fictional drama that I can be moved to tears; sometimes to really distressful levels of sadness and grief. At the end of that post I wrote:

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.

As it turns out, thanks to a friend I discovered an interesting answer through a wonderful TED talk by VS Ramachandran, a Neuroscientist who has studied the functions of mirror neurons. It would seem there is overwhelming evidence we humans are more closely connected than I was hinting at.

In his talk he says, “There is no real independent self, aloof from other human beings, inspecting the world, inspecting other people. You are, in fact, connected not just via Facebook and Internet, you’re actually quite literally connected by your neurons.” I find this resonates in many ways with my understanding of Systems Dynamics, Quantum Theory, and Zen and goes a long way toward answering my question. Frankly I find it a meaningful addition to my understanding, but still find myself wondering why it manifests itself so powerfully in some . . . and not at all in others. After all, the world is filled with people who are anti-social in varying degrees of severity from mild conduct disorders to outright sociopathy or APSD.

Regardless, there is much value in this talk. He speaks of the wonders of the human brain and, with respect to the issues I raised yesterday, uses words like imitation and emulation, ultimately winding his way to empathy. Rather than repeat any of his talk, I urge you to listen to it. There’s at least one very cool surprise a little more than halfway through. At less than eight minutes, it’s really engaging. Here’s the video. I’d love to hear what others think of this:


On Being a Softie

Suspension of Disbelief

To Open Up And Believe

The willing suspension of disbelief. What a powerful, magical, and exceedingly frightening thing it can be – at least for me. Not always, though. It’s been quite a while since my last venture into the genre but, a long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – I read a lot of Science Fiction. Reading it can’t possibly be enjoyable if you aren’t able to suspend your ability to think critically. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the hell out of what many an author hated being called Sci-Fi.

I’m normally somewhat cynical and am a fairly skeptical person, so I’m continuously surprised at how easily I can get sucked into a compelling story, especially if the characters are even moderately complex. I think it actually frightens me to realize how deeply I have disappeared into many a television drama.

This tendency has no doubt been exacerbated by my becoming a father at the ripe old age of 55, when my wife and I culminated a decision we had made a couple of years earlier and traveled to the People’s Republic of China to adopt our first child. We repeated the process four years later and, at the tender age of 59, I once again became a new father.

I now find myself immersed in shows where children are involved (it happens far more often than one might think) and I can’t help but identify with the parents, which sometimes brings me to tears – occasionally racking sobs of grief.

It has always been this way. I’ve been told the men in my family – many of them – were blubberers. Though I couldn’t have been older than five or six at the time, I recall the first time I saw my father cry. He had just received news that my Bubbie Jennie, his mother, had died. He hadn’t seen much of her since moving to Southern California. She had remained in Chicago, where both my parents were born. It was eerie, and not a little unsettling to see my father, a young boy’s tower of strength and resolve, break down like that.

It was made more difficult because I had only met her once, when she came to visit for a week, and she was unfamiliar to me. On the other hand, my maternal grandparents lived with us and I felt a strong emotional tie to them I could not summon up for her. She was by Bubbie, though. My mother’s mother was just Grandma.

I frequently ask myself, however, why I am so deeply and painfully drawn into these stories. I’m not entirely certain I have the answer, but I’m pretty sure it’s not so much the story itself as it is the relationship those stories bear to my own life.

Dictionary.com defines empathy as follows: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another. That seems pretty straight-forward, yes? I am a fairly empathetic person and I tend toward the second part of that definition, i.e. I feel the pain of others vicariously. However, I don’t think this captures the essence of what is happening when I am fully immersed in a story.

Perhaps it’s too fine a point and the distinction isn’t all that great, but it seems to me what’s really happening is I’m overlaying the experience in the story onto my own life. I’m not so much experiencing the feelings of another as I’m experiencing the feelings I would have were I to be in that situation. I don’t think they’re the same. Then again, maybe that’s the mechanism that actually facilitates empathy.

This is a minor conundrum that comes to me most every time it happens and, usually, I forget about it within a minute or two. Lately I decided to try and get a descriptive handle on it and this is my first attempt.

Empathy is a valuable and deeply human trait. It is one of the five traits listed as characteristic of emotional intelligence which, in turn, is seen by many as a valuable business and leadership skill. It’s important to understand and to cultivate in order that we may better understand the people in our lives, whether at work, play, or home.

I want to understand what is moving me when this happens. On some levels it seems patently ridiculous to get so emotionally involved in a fiction story. On the other hand, perhaps it is really what makes us human. I’m wondering if someone with a more classical education than I have knows more of the thinking humans have brought to the subject. I’m sure some in the Arts (especially the Theater Arts) have tackled it. I’ll have to do more research. In the meantime, I’m glad there’s plenty of tissue in the house.


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