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Fox: For America, strength and empathy go hand-in-hand

dfox • Updated Nov 12, 2015 at 11:12 PM

Normally, I just roll my eyes.

When I hear about America’s supposed weakness, I picture a guy who goes to the gym twice a day just to prove he’s as robust as he was during his high school days.

America hasn’t really lost any of its strength. But America has forgotten a lot of its ability to feel empathy. And frankly, that should be more disconcerting to all of us.

We’ve simply forgotten how to walk — if only for a moment — in someone else’s shoes.

If you want examples, go to the comments section of nearly any news story, especially one that reports on a crime. You’ll often find hateful, disgusting, often racially laced words that make it clear the author hasn’t stopped for a second to consider the consequences of his or her words.

For that matter, go to any news story that deals with politics. You’ll often find more hate, blind loyalty and unyielding beliefs that one side is so very good and the other is so very bad.

You can go to the presidential debates, where some people want to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants — even those who have been here their entire adult lives and know only English.

You can even go to our letters to the editor, where some people have compared welfare recipients to animals. 

In all these places, it’s as if empathy is only to be found on a side of a milk carton.

Even when we want people to feel or show empathy, we get it wrong. A lot of the discussion about whether white privilege exists is rooted in the fact we forget people come at situations with completely different frames of reference, especially when it comes to race and socioeconomics.

When someone is deemed too empathetic, out comes the mythical label of “politically correct.” And we use that label because it’s not fashionable to directly equate empathy and weakness. 

But the guy who goes to the gym twice a day can’t afford to even think about weakness, so a new label needed to be found.

Fast fact: “empathetic” and “pathetic” are actually antonyms, not synonyms. In fact, empathy is actually a sign of great strength.

Much like the person who stands tallest when he or she stoops to help a child, it takes strength and self-confidence for someone to consider the wants and needs of those we don’t know. Considering them doesn’t require you to revamp your belief system. In fact, it might strengthen your beliefs. So at the end of the day, there is no real downside to empathy.

So why have we forgotten about it? Marketing.

There’s nothing glitzy about empathy. It won’t sell newspapers, get your name on TV or radio or get people to respond to your Facebook comment. 

It takes forethought and compassion, and too many of us have decided that’s not for us.

We’re too busy trying to convince ourselves America is weak and needs to get stronger. The reality is that America is plenty strong, but it needs to get wiser.


Dean Fox, the news editor of The Lebanon Democrat, is about as glitzy as an old pair of tennis shoes. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.


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