A global empathy

April 27, 2011 | By | 4 Replies More

If you’ve lived in or spent any significant time in another country, you might have had to answer questions about why your country was doing certain things on the world stage. And if you took time to think of who was asking and how things appeared from their perspectives, your answer might be different than if you spent your life wearing parochial blinders.

I was in Korea when we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. I couldn’t answer the questions like, “Why is the U.S. doing that?” or the more common one, “Why are Bush and Cheney doing that?” And these from a country that enjoys (not universally) a U.S. presence and strong relationship with the U.S. I couldn’t answer not just because I was in the military for part of the time I was there, but also that I tried to understand how things looked from outside the U.S. I was, after all, a guest in their country.

Sam Richards, in this TED Talk titled “A Radical Experiment in Empathy” illustrates a message that I think that every single American needs to hear, whether xenophobic or not. I’ve lived all over the U.S. and I am continually saddened, if no longer surprised at how Americans view the world. “Speak English!” “But you’re in our country.” “Speak English anyway.” I am also saddened that I know many people that will not understand this video, which is all the more disappointing because despite my other challenges regarding the nature of humans though their arts, I do.

The message is simple: Step out of your tiny world and understand the larger world differently.

It should open some eyes. I really hope it does.

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Category: American Culture, World politics

About the Author ()

Jim is a husband of more than 27 years, father of four home-schooled sons (26, 23, 16 and 14), engineer delighting in virtually all things technical, with more than a passing interest in history, religions, arts, most sciences (particularly physics) and skepticism.

Comments (4)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Jim: Thank you. I really enjoyed Sam Richards' presentation. His story-telling was really effect. I agree with his premise that it all starts with empathy.

    Too bad, though, that Harris felt the need to make his disclaimer at the very end. To the extent that one feels great empathy, just as the experiment encourages, to the extent that one becomes a citizen of the world rather than a citizen of a particular country, the harshness one might otherwise feel for the "terrorists" melts away and the whole conflict starts looking rather pointless. I think "If we magically swapped the Iraqi "terrorists" with the American soldiers at birth, the "terrorists" would eagerly invade Iraq to protect American oil while the soldiers would vigorously defend Iraq sovereignty. Or that's how it seems to me.

    As I watched this video, I was reminded about how much I have begun to feel like a stranger in my own country. Perhaps because I do often imagine how I would feel if my community were invaded by others who stomped on my culture and mistreated my family and friends, all to extract a valuable resource.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Jim: Here's a video illustrating the main point of this lecture.

    <object width="480" height="390"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/NRF7dTafPu0?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><param name="allowscriptaccess" value="always"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/NRF7dTafPu0?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0&quot; type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="480" height="390" allowscriptaccess="always" allowfullscreen="true"></embed></object>

    This fact sheet indicates that Afghanistan has 10 million land mines. http://www.afghan-network.net/Landmines/

    The United States still employs the use of land mines. http://www.banminesusa.org/

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