In 2017, let’s try to have a little more empathy

Without a doubt, one of the most misused words in the English language is ’empathy.’

Too often, it’s amalgamated with another commonly used word — sympathy — when, in reality, the two terms are very different from one another.

And I’m not faulting anyone for it. I’ve made the same mistake. I studied English in college and it’s only recently that I really got a firm grasp on how to properly utilize the word ’empathy.’

Whenever something bad happens, we tell people to empathize for the victims. During this presidential election, we often heard about a lack of empathy for certain subgroups of our population.

But what does that really mean?

To sympathize is to have a visceral, emotional reaction. When you hear about a shooting at an Orlando night club, you sympathize for the mothers who lost their children. When you hear about refugees crossing the Mediterranean in shoddy boats, you sympathize for the infants who must make that dangerous trek, too young to process the chaos that’s even causing it.

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Having sympathy is understanding that something unfortunate happened, and feeling bad about it.

But to empathize is to have a real human connection. When you hear about a tragedy, and instead of just “feeling bad,” you put yourself in the shoes of the victim, and try to imagine how they are feeling. Not how you are feeling about it, but how they are feeling.

And that’s a concept that too many people are unable to grasp.

You saw it time and time again during the election. When certain minority groups were marginalized, it was the majority that told them how they should feel.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my nearly 30 years of living, it’s that we have no right to pass judgment on anybody unless we’ve lived in their shoes and fully understand what they are going through.

I know what it is like to be a white man in the U.S.A. It’s all I’ve ever known. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. To be black. To be Latino. To be gay.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a Muslim living in the U.S. during a time when our president-elect once suggested banning all adherents of that religion from entering our borders.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a transgender, living at a time when states are diminishing their rights.

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And that certainly doesn’t mean I can’t have an opinion on women’s rights, or on Black Lives Matter, or on Islam. But that opinion should be forged when taking into account the thoughts and feelings of those who would be most affected by a certain issue.

When people were rioting in St. Louis and Baltimore, after the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, we decried them as savages and animals.

What we didn’t do is try to see the world through their eyes. Understand why they were mad.

When there were no black Oscar nominees for a second straight year, and a backlash ensued, we laughed it off as a ridiculous complaint.

What we didn’t do is understand that what the frustration was really about was that the omission represented the lack of opportunity that exists in Hollywood for black actors, in comparison to their white counterparts.

We react based on our own life experiences, without trying to understand the other.

And I think that’s the true mark of a thoughtful, cultured person. To understand that there are a lot of viewpoints in any given issue, and to try and see the world outside of your own bubble.

Once we see where they’re coming from, then we can form an educated viewpoint, rather than speaking from ignorance.

It’s certainly not easy. But just trying to have more empathy will go a long way towards bringing the people in this world closer together.

I’m not optimistic, but I’m hopeful.

Let’s all try to be better.

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Mike Pence’s night at the theater

Remember when I said I would stop talking about politics after Nov. 8? Well … yeah.

The election is still a bit on the forefront of people’s minds. And it may stay that way for another four years.

I’m not trying to be the voice of reason. I’m not pretending that I am more lucid on this subject than most other people. But what I am trying to do is think about what’s happening from a sensible perspective.

Because in the aftermath of this contentious and divisive election, I feel like that is something missing in the conversation: sense. People are so angry and so emotional that they are speaking from their heart and not from their brain.

“Not my president” is the common calling card among protesters and dissenters. Well, guess what? He is your president. Unless you relinquish your citizenship and take refuge in another country, then Donald Trump is the legitimate leader of the country that you live in. And we must all deal it. It might take a while, but that process begins with sensible conversation.

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And yet, at the same time, it boggles my mind that people fail to understand why others are so unhappy with the result. Donald Trump denigrated various minority groups for a year and a half. He emboldened people who previously hid their hatred to lay it out in the open. So how can people be so blind to not realize that our nation’s most vulnerable residents feel threatened?

Perspective is needed on both sides.

My recent travels have taken me to North Carolina and Florida in the past 10 days — two states that, had either of them voted differently, we may be talking about President Hillary Clinton right now.

Well, after spending some time down there, I’m happy to report one central conclusion — America is still America.

People were not waving confederate flags in the streets. There were no people pledging allegiance to a giant mural of Donald Trump in a public square.

Rather, the two Republican-leaning states consisted of regular, everyday people, just like you and I.

For now, let’s just take this one day at a time. Work hard during the week, and enjoy your nights out over the weekend. We can all go a weekend without discussing politics, right?

Like Mike Pence, who on last Friday night decided to enjoy a performance of the universally-acclaimed Broadway show, Hamilton.

And then the encore happened.

I honestly don’t know why people are surprised. Hamilton reinterpreted American history to highlight the fundamental contributions that immigrants have made on this country. So when the show hosted the vice president-elect whose legislative record has not shown support towards women, minorities or members of the LGBT community, and who is part of an administration that’s boasted widely anti-immigrant sentiment, how could they stay silent?

Their message was cordial and compassionate; pleading yet respectful. And eloquent.

It was the furthest thing from harassment — as our president-elect stated — and was spoken on behalf of immigrants across the nation.

I am not a big fan of the theater. But even I know that Broadway is a beacon of expression. It’s the world’s epicenter for the arts. It’s where our most animated and theatrical souls unite to emote and to vocalize.

If not in that location, at that play, then where else do we tell this administration that we expect equal and fair treatment for all of our residents?

And if people want to boycott the show, then be my guest.

Maybe a dude can finally score some tickets after all.

What I learned from my Jamaican Uber driver

We are closing in on one week since Donald Trump became the president elect, and needless to say, I am still trying to wrap my head around how exactly how we got to this point.

It’s very easy to say right now that we made a mistake. It’s easy to joke about how terrible of a president Donald Trump will be. But by doing so, we are completely discrediting and ignoring the more than 60 million people who voted for him.

I understand that people are angry. I understand that people want to take to the streets to voice their disapproval of the ideologies that have been expressed by the man we elected.

But we also must be pragmatic. Protesting only deepens the divide that has already been exposed. And doing it violently only sends the opposite message of the cause you wish to further.

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Yes, we must remain vigilant. And yes, we must look out for each other — which has been nicely symbolized by people who are wearing safety pins on their shirts as an act of solidarity — but we also must understand one another.

Go home and talk to your family members. Talk to your friends. Talk to strangers on the street. And in my case, talk to your Uber drivers.

While visiting the swing state of North Carolina (which was a planned trip … I didn’t travel there post-election to yell at people for tilting the election), I was driven back to the airport on Sunday by a man who immigrated from Jamaica a few years ago. And for 15 minutes, we had a very thoughtful conversation about why so many people voted for Trump — and why so many chose not to vote at all.

Needless to say, this election has been a wake-up call for young white liberals. To us, Trump is the biggest threat to the ideologies that we want to see championed across the nation. And in our mostly privileged lives, it’s one of the first time we didn’t get our way.

But for young black voters, a Trump presidency is not an existential problem, especially when you consider how much hardship they have endured — and continued to endure — throughout their long history in this country. To them, Trump is simply another inconvenience towards their path to equality, and one of many.

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On a racism scale of 1 to 10, my Uber driver pegged Trump at “about a 3,” which caught me a bit by surprise. When I asked him to elaborate, he said Trump preaches the sentiments of most people who were born during the Baby Boomer era, who long for the good ole days days of their childhood when nationalism was high and, consequently, segregation was the status quo. Trump’s not trying to be racist, he told me, he just doesn’t know any better because he’s never associated with black people, like most Americans his age.

This was a very similar sentiment expressed by David Chappelle in his cuttingly poignant monologue on Saturday Night Live. “We’ve been here before,” Chappelle lamented. In other words, a roadblock towards progress for African-Americans is nothing new.

Systematic racism has always been there, my Uber driver told me, but now, with Trump as president, it’s more out in the open than ever before. We the people, as well as the media, are on high alert for bigotry. And that, he said, is a good thing.

In other words, it might have to get a little worse before it gets better.

Amazingly, this was the first time I had spoken to a non-white person about the election results. And it just showed me beneficial it is to gain different perspectives.

You can’t stand up for something until you fully understand what the problem is.

I am just as unhappy with this election result as the people who are out there protesting on the streets. You can say that racism, misogyny, xenophobia and hate won in the end.

But instead of simply accepting that and disregarding all other possibilities, I’d rather focus my energy on learning what cultivated the emotion that led to this result.

Until we understand one another, we’re not getting any better.

That Uber ride cost me $13.20.

But the life lessons I learned along the way were priceless.

The Day After: the people have spoken.

For many, the situation that America finds itself in right now was once an unfathomable thought.

After the unorthodox campaign Donald Trump had run, full of race-baiting and xenophobia while feeding off people’s fears and anger, the idea that he would be elected president was simply unthinkable.

Even when he became one of two candidates remaining. Still, there was no way.

And yet, here were are on, on Nov. 9, and Donald Trump is the president elect.

I said this would be a memorable election for the remainder of our lives. But I didn’t believe it would be for this reason.

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What we saw on Tuesday night was a revolution. This was a fervent repudiation of the establishment by working class white Americans. It was a rejection of the political elites, globalism, and a major blow to the legacy of Barack Obama.

And it continues a trend of a populist surge across western Democracies worldwide. First Brexit, now Trumpism, and countries like Germany and France may be next in their own upcoming elections.

But it has happened. And now we must deal with it.

I was anxious going into last night. As the results filtered in, my anxiety grew by the hour. Once Florida turned red and other swing states were not looking promising, I knew in my heart that it was over, and drifted into an uneasy sleep. The next morning, I reluctantly checked the results on my phone, my worst fears confirmed.

I then read through status after status of my Facebook friends who were basically standing on the ledge, as they voiced with disgust about how their lives will never be the same.

I then took a half-hour walk before leaving for work to do some soul searching. And that’s when it hit me: this country cannot be ruled by one man. It is still about us. If you’re unhappy with the result, then express it by being the best human that you can be. Respect and love for one another is, and always will be, the antidote to fear-mongering and hate.

As a straight, white male, I can’t really look at my friends who are gay, or female, or in the minority, and tell them that everything is going to be OK. And I saw that people were sharing this emotional reaction by CNN commentator Van Jones that basically expressed that very sentiment.

I know so many of us are shell-shocked. But what I can tell you with confidence is that we can make it through whatever comes next if we stick together.

Throughout this election, I preached all along that we must come together at the end, in anticipation of a Hillary Clinton win. So what kind of person would I be if I didn’t live up to my own words when the result didn’t go the way that I wanted it to?

As Hillary Clinton beautifully said during her concession speech, we owe it to the sanctity and posterity of our country to give Donald Trump an open mind. Let him prove to us that he can do the job.

And if he can’t — well, this is the age of activism. We’ll let him know. Our president and congress may belong to one party, but we, the people, will be the watchdog.

It was a day of reckoning, indeed, for America. We have sent shock waves throughout the entire world.

But this is still our country.

And I still believe in us.

Election Day 2016: The day of reckoning

In 2008, I was in one of the more unlikeliest of places when I learned that Barack Obama had been elected our 44th president.

I was a senior in college, at Binghamton University in central New York, and I was participating in a beer pong tournament in one of the most popular and notorious bars among students.

It was $3 pitcher night at the Rathskeller, which, in German, translates to “basement.” And it’s called that for good reason. The bar is located in the cellar of another bar.

It’s exactly what you’d expect it to look like. It’s dark, grimy, and the men’s bathroom comprises only troughs to relieve yourself in. It was a favorite among freshmen because the bar was lenient with checking IDs.

But it was there, while throwing a ping pong ball into a red Solo cup on a Tuesday night, where the emcee of the tournament informed us all that Barack Obama had officially won the 2008 presidential election. I believe I shrugged and continued on with my game.

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The next day, when visiting a professor for office hours, she talked jubilantly about how she’ll always remember where she was the moment she learned we had elected our first African-American president. When she asked where I was, I lied and said I had been sitting around a TV watching with friends.

In 2012, I was working in my third year as a journalist, covering local elections in Long Island for the majority of election night. It wasn’t until I got home, close to midnight, when I learned that Obama had defeated Mitt Romney to earn a second term. I was mildly more interested than I was four years ago.

In 2016, I am four years older, four years wiser, and infinitely more invested in who becomes the next president. The stakes are much higher than they’ve been in any of the last two elections, and like everyone else, I have been ridden with anxiety over who will win.

But at the same time, I am also appreciating the significance of the moment. You only liveelection-day-2016 through so many presidential elections in your life — and even less presidents — and we may never experience another contest that is crazier than this one. Furthermore, we quite possibly are on the verge of electing our first woman president.

I am not at a bar, and I am already home from work. I will be experiencing this election right here, at home, with my cat and all of you.

This will be an election season that we will be talking about for the rest of our lives. Its significance may fade over time, like everything does, but it will certainly never be forgotten.

One day, we may all be telling our grandkids about what it was like to live in America in 2016. And today is the culmination of that period.

So just savor it a little bit. It’s obviously a tense night, and we’re all feeling a little high-strung as we await the full results over the next few hours — but at the same time, try to appreciate the historical significance of what we are all currently experiencing.

And then tomorrow, we can focus ourselves on the day after. Because the real impact that will be felt from today’s results is how we react as a nation.

We have two options: stay divided or come together.

Which road we choose will determine how we will be remembered for generations to come.

Here’s hoping for a happy ending.

The Weinblog endorses…

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Guys, we made it.

Don’t ask me how. But throughout the 18 months of painful political mudslinging, slander, smear campaigns, scandals and character assassinations; throughout the misogynistic, xenophobic, sexist, racist and bigoted rhetoric; and throughout the cesspool of conversations that took place on social media, political talk shows and possibly even at your own dinner table – despite all of these disturbances and intrusions into our daily lives that made it seem like this election would never come to an end, the biological process of time still held true.

And here we are, on Nov. 7, one day before voters head to the polls.

Sometime tomorrow night, we will know who our next president is. And hopefully, we, as a nation, can take one collective sigh of relief and move on.

But first we have to choose someone.

I strongly recommend Hillary Clinton.

*Ducks, shuts laptop, runs for cover, hides in a closet, says 12 Hail Marys, reluctantly leaves, tiptoes back, opens laptop. Nothing happens. Breathes a sigh of relief. A tomato then flies through the screen and hits me in the face.*

I know, I know. The emails. The foundation. Benghazi. The general untrustworthiness.

It’s been so easy to absorb any one of these narratives and use them to form one general conclusion – that Hillary Clinton is a corrupt, crooked, dishonest politician.

But doing so would be a lazy conclusion that her critics want you to make.

First of all, there is a reason that, despite all of these developments, Hillary Clinton is still a presidential nominee. And that is because she has been thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities, and was determined to have broken no laws.

That is the truth. People who believe otherwise are simply ignoring facts.

Anybody who has actually read into the details of Hillary Clinton’s alleged missteps know by know how strongly embellished and exaggerated they have become over time. The closer you look, the more benign they become.

Does that mean that she wasn’t careless with her private email server? Or skirting an ethical line? Sure. But you find me a person who has run for president who has lived a perfect life.

One of the reasons we know so much about Hillary Clinton is because of how public her life has been. As an activist, a wife of a two-term governor, First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, the majority of her life has been in the public eye. And yet, the biggest scandal is her misuse of e-mails.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump is not a decent man. His greatest concerns are his own best interests and he does not care about the American people. He lacks any awareness on the most basic issues of governing and has shown no interest in educating himself. He is easily rattled by even the smallest slight directed towards him, and his history of denigration towards women, immigrants, veterans and disabled people make him someone who has no right to represent our country.

That we even came this close to handing this man the most powerful and important job in the world is nothing short of terrifying.

Simply put, a vote for Donald Trump sets our country backwards.

It promotes divisiveness over unity.

And it undermines the values in which this country was built on; that of inclusiveness, progress, and that men and women of all faiths and backgrounds are treated equally.

Let’s be on the right side of history tomorrow.

Let’s put the first women in the White House.

History is made

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If you watched Game 7 on Wednesday night, then there is not really much left to add.

Given the plot-twisting excitement of the game, with the stunning comeback by the Cleveland Indians in the 8th inning against the game’s hardest throwing closer, followed by a drama-halting rain delay, and then one more comeback attempt by the Indians that ultimately fell short — it would have been an extremely memorable game no matter what.

But since it was the decisive game of the World Series between two teams that hadn’t won in a combined 176 years, it may go down as one of the — if not the — greatest baseball games of all time.

For those who aren’t major fans of the sport but understood the significance enough to tune in — understand that you just watched something that will probably be talked about for ages to come.

Yes, I was rooting for the Indians, and yes, I fell into an uneasy sleep knowing that Cubs fans’ misery ended before mine (my beloved Mets have not won a World Series in my lifetime), it’s hard to stay mad when you appreciate what the Cubs just accomplished.

And on a side note, I went to Wrigley Field for a game this year for the first time. And who knows, it may be my only time. It would be pretty neat to say that the only game I’ve ever watched there came in the season in which the Cubs won it all.

The game drew 40 million viewers, equaling the most in 25 years. It demolished the CMA Awards on ABC, which drew just 12.8 million.

But there’s really nothing more left to say. Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs and their fans. Especially Bill Murray.

Actually, congratulations only to Bill Murray.

And now, our attention turns back to the final weekend before the presidential election. We can all take some solace in knowing that we are so close to being done, and maybe — just maybe — we can all return to our normal lives next week without living in a world where a verbal political assault can break out at any given moment.

In five days, we will know who our next president is.

Hey, Wednesday night might not be the first time the blue team beats the red team.