Empire and Empathy

Great Sojourners article here by Alan Bean on the lack of empathy in the young people of today. The erosion of empathy in our society is a hugely important subject, something not discussed enough in faith circles.

My background is in Youth Work, and here in New Zealand we use a Lakota model of human development, called the ‘Circle of Courage’, as a framework for understanding and responding to young people’s needs. The Circle teaches that there are four key developmental needs for any person, and one of those four is Generosity/Empathy. If we are unable to feel for others and give of ourselves, we diminish as a human being and our inner world diminishes along with us.

Rather than blaming technology, political messages or media though, I would put today’s lack of empathy down to the breakdown of community.

Beginning with the agricultural revolution, and greatly spurred by the industrial revolution, mankind has been on a journey that is taking us further and further away from co-operative social structures (tribes) to hierarchical structures (city/states/’empire’). Anthropological studies show what tribal groups and intentional communities have always known.. that human beings are designed to live in groups/tribes of no more than 150 (called Dunbar’s number). Beyond this, empathy begins to be stretched too thin, and co-operation as a way of getting things done must give way to coercion.

Bolstered by an almost religious commitment to growth economics (‘more’ and ‘bigger’ is better), our city/states (’empire’) have become characterized more and more by extreme social fragmentation, disconnection from the natural world/creation, and a loss of the sense of the ‘sacred’. Divorce, mental health issues and suicide, the breakdown of the family unit sit alongside issues like massive species extinction, climate change and pollution. All these things are interconnected.

But there is hope, I think. We see evidence of it in the emergence of more and more intentional communities, local and ‘slow’ food movements, alternative trading systems, social justice groups (just look at 350.org, a relatively new group that organized the planets most widespread day of political action in history). And G-d, far from dead as Nietzsche proclaimed, is enjoying a renewed interest in the West, as people begin to realize how crucial a sense of the ‘sacred’ is to being fully human.

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~ by humblemonkey on June 10, 2010.

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