Empathy: The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.
Today’s sermon — and forgive us, but that is what this will be — is about empathy, and what we see as a heartbreaking and debilitating absence of it in a country that is increasingly divided along black-and-white lines. If you doubt that we as a nation need a robust injection of this most generous human trait, then abandon us for social media, where the worst of America is displayed each day as everyone has an opinion and they mistakenly believe someone else is interested in it.
We have seen it with the Trump-Hillary wars, where friends are being lost for the worst of reasons, polar political opinions. But we have reached a new nadir: It isn’t that the other candidate is wrong, but that person is evil. We have acquired a stunning willingness to believe the worst about everyone who thinks differently.
The most recent reincarnation of our inability to look at the world through another lens came last week in Charlotte, where a black man was again shot dead by a police officer, and everything spiraled downward from there as rioters hit the streets, using the occasion as a sorry excuse for violence.
Imagine, if you would be so kind, opening up your mind enough to consider how it is to be raised black in a nation with a checkered history when it comes to how it has treated your ancestors, sending them to the back of the line, making their struggle more uphill, and demanding that they be satisfied with less. How would you feel to see people who look like you constantly on the dead wrong end of these confrontations with police officers, and convinced that justice would not eventually be served? Would it not make you wonder if you or yours were next, adding worry to every encounter with a cop, that you essentially have a bulls-eye on your back?
Now imagine being a police officer, getting up each day to go out and protect people who distrust you, knowing that you are being painted by a broad brush. Does anyone believe that black police officer in Charlotte, who works for a black police chief, actually got up one morning last week intending to hunt down and kill an unarmed black man? Yet many in this country believe that is exactly what happened.
So what we end up with is a war on social media, where there are dueling memes or videos, that don’t advance the conversation, but undermine it. If you think we are talking about you, then it’s likely we are.
We as a nation would do better to worry less about why a football player takes a knee during the national anthem and try to understand better why he feels compelled to do so. And vice versa.
We have said that God, no matter the name yours goes by, played a cruel joke on us all when he decided that humans would be alike except that they would come in different colors. That — and religion — have been the great dividers on this earth ever since man quit dragging his knuckles and stood upright.
The joke has never been funny — and it seems even less so every day.