Empathy

In my last blog post, I discussed the power of community. A closely related topic is empathy. In fact, you cannot have one without the other, and both are so deeply ingrained in our programming we are barely aware of their power.

Remember how I mentioned that language is the facility through which we connect with individuals in our community? Empathy is even more powerful and mysterious than language. No external exchange is made between two individuals, yet still the exchange is made without either party intending it (unless one is faking for the sake of triggering empathy in others). It is an automatic neurological response to what we observe in others. Sometimes we may not even need to see the other party for empathy to trigger. After a certain age, when one has collected years of experience of simply living life, one reads another’s experience on an Internet post and draws upon their own experiences and past (or present) feelings and emotions to develop empathy for the other. This may be the basis of the technologically-driven “empathic civilization” discussed in the above video.

With this online interaction comes the de-othering (referring to the concept of the “other”) of individuals of different nationalities. 

With instantaneous communication, the world becomes much smaller. The identities we once had, based first on tribe, then religion, then nation, slowly fade to being a single human identity, especially as language barriers drop. When I look at how social media has transformed the world, I am amazed and optimistic. Instantaneous communication with anyone in the world (while not perfect and bringing its own problems) has made the distance between West Jordan and London or Madrid or Sydney much smaller, where time zones are the primary barriers rather than distance. I can interact with people across the world on a daily basis, forming online communities that cannot be formed in my daily life.

With this online interaction comes the de-othering (referring to the concept of the “other”) of individuals of different nationalities. As the video above mentioned, modern civilization is based on the nation-state. With technology, the basis of the nation-state may begin to erode. Wars become unattractive because the citizens of one nation know that the citizens of the other are ordinary people with the same dreams, drives, fears, and pleasures that they themselves share. They also become sensitive to their plight and call for proactive measures to better others’ situation across the seas. No longer does civilization rise and fall based on arbitrary lines in the sand. The Internet knows no bounds.

My identity has come to better recognize my place in the community, both locally and globally. Locally, I recognize that where I live is my home and an integral part of my character, and if I am not happy with how my home is, I must take action to affect change. On the other hand, while my American identity will never go away, I recognize that foreigners are a part of my community. To my list of identities, I add “human”. As the class goes on, this human identity, I expect, will grow in importance.

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