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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A deeply troubling anti-Islamic sentiment is upon us

I really, really wanted to lighten things up around here today and back away from politics in the aftermath of the Paris attacks.

But there’s one more piece of unfinished business.

I’ve spoken about how the most powerful way to combat terrorism is to show that it hasn’t taken away your spirit or your heart. And I know that sounds like an overly simplistic, idealized, Care-Bearish way to think about it, but I firmly believe it’s true.

New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman today said the most tangible accomplishment terrorist groups like ISIS can achieve is to inspire fear. They can’t establish the type of Islamic state that they so badly want to. Not in Paris, certainly not in the U.S., not anywhere.

They win when their actions cause us to panic. They win when they make us rush to react. And they especially win when they divide us.

Refugees ParisAnd I’m afraid that seems to be what’s happening right now. At least in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s attacks.

Barack Obama has stood firm in his stance to not put American troops on the ground to fight ISIS. His administration has, however, coordinated with the French military in its airstrikes of ISIS strongholds in Syria over the last two days..

At least one presidential candidate, Governor Lindsay Graham of South Carolina — whose polling so low he wasn’t even invited to FOX’s undercard debate last week — wants to send troops, warning that the next “9/11” is on its way from Syria.

But what’s most alarming is the xenophobic, anti-Islamic sentiment that has erupted across the U.S. At least 23 governors — all but one of them Republican — are taking action to prevent Syrian refugees from entering their states.

Another presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal — whose so irrelevant I don’t even remember if he debated or not last week — issued executive action to blockade Syrians from Louisiana.

Donald Trump said he wants to inspect mosques for signs of terrorism. Ben Carson wants Congress to defund federal programs that resettle Syrian refugees in America. Jeb Bush said we should favor Christian refugees over Muslims.

It appears that people are forgetting that the United States’ history of acceptance of all people is what made it the global superpower and world leader it is today. We set the standard for diversity.

Quite simply, the America we know does not exist without the infusion of immigrants.

Does that mean we all get along? No. But the sudden discrimination of Muslims is as anti-American as can be. And it’s all because of the perverted view of a small minority of religious extremists.

It’s OK to be angry. It’s OK to be upset. And it’s certainly understandable to crave justice.

But remember who the enemy is. When we start discriminately searching for people to blame, that’s when we lose all the values that make us who we are.

Do you know what takes real courage in the face of hardship? Not giving into intimidation or fear tactics, especially those spewed by political stakeholders who have their own ulterior motives.

It’s up to you to make up your own mind.