Friday, April 20, 2007

The quality of empathy

Is in short supply. For example, here are the opening paragraphs of a Judith Warner opinion piece in her online NYT column called Domestic Disturbances. It is regrettably subscriber only:

There's an absolutely horrifying article in the current issue of Child Magazine about the food fight now raging between parents of children with life-threatening food allergies and parents of the allergy-free. The latter, apparently, have started to push back against "peanut-free" school regulations to assert their children's natural right to eat whatever they darn well please.

The stories are downright chilling: One parent joked on a message board about having his daughter dress as "the Death Peanut" on Halloween. A North Carolina father at a parent-teacher organization meeting said he'd continue to send his child to school with peanut butter sandwiches and "tell his child to 'smear' the peanut butter along the hallway walls." Another father sent his child to school with a "disguised" sandwich that had peanut butter hidden in the middle of the bread.

What's with these wacko parents? According to Judith:

[E]mpathy appears to me now, in much of what I read, to be in particularly short supply, not only among different groups of parents (all those "wars," Mommy and otherwise) but in the increasingly punitive attitudes of school systems and legislators toward parents and, by extension, their kids. Frequently, I find, there seems to be a kind of studied harshness in the air, an in-your-face obtuseness that tries to pass itself off as some sort of virtue or push for justice.

A studied harshness in the air. That seems right to Spot. Piety and virtue, and sometimes even justice, are the biggest empathy killers around. Here's a comment to Warner's article by a reader:

My experience has been that self-righteous parents also raise children without empathy - children without any sense of the good-natured tolerance that makes society a more civil place. I am continually amazed at the inability of older school children to make the smallest accommodations for anyone else. It seems as if to do so would sacrifice their natural right to…whatever it is. We act as if we are the most liberty-deprived people on the planet, instead of the most self-centered.

Spotty says that the comment is spot on. Piety and the code of "personal virtue" make self-absorption masquerade as moral rectitude.

You know where this is going, don't you, boys and girls?

Yeah, you're going to talk about Katie again.

Bingo. Let's take Katie's recent hat trick screed against Muslims. Katie is a member of the group that holds the overwhelming wealth, power, and influence in the United States.

Hack writers?

No grasshopper: Christian white people. People like Katie are the ones who ought to have a little of the "sense of the good-natured tolerance that makes society a more civil place." But in order to have tolerance, you first have to possess a modicum of empathy. Empathy is among the attributes sorely lacking in conservative Christians. Think of them as a large mutual-admiration society, brimming with self-regard, convinced of the correctness of their beliefs and their place in the firmament.

What need have they of empathy? What the world needs is the propagation of their grasp of Ultimate Truth: evangelism. You can understand then Katie's concern about some other religion having the same idea. Here's how she ends her latest column (link above):

The Muslim Students Association of the U.S. and Canada is heavily involved in the Canadian Federation of Students' new report and lobbying. Its president is a member of the task force, and has been a spokesman for its recommendations. The association is the organization that Minneapolis Community and Technical College has looked to for guidance on the ritual washing issue.

Its main goal, it says, is "Dawah": spreading Islam.

Oh, the horror!

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