We live in a divisive world. It has always been that way I suppose. These days we seem to talk at each other more than with each other.
Fear, hatred and aggression are becoming acceptable social responses, as our country's leaders demonstrate for us more and more often. Many are lauded because they won't even try to get along with others, and in fact actively cause division.
What qualities do we really want in a leader? What qualities do we really want in ourselves?
No matter what our political, social, financial or religious ideologies are, do we want "whoever argues loudest and longest is right?"
Belligerent behavior may "win" an ideological confrontation in the sense that it drives away all opposition. However, regardless of our arguments, belligerent behavior makes us wrong.
We are wrong because there is no truth in fear and hatred. We are wrong because we are lacking empathy and respect.
Respect is treating others as we would like be treated; placing other's needs as equal to or more important than our own.
Empathy is seeing the world as others see it; walking in the shoes of other people without judging them.
Respect and empathy are not something that is owed to us. They are not earned or given based on our judgment. Respect and empathy are what we owe – to everyone. Even those who seek to harm us.
NPR aired a story recently which makes the point perfectly. You can find the text of it here: http://www.npr.org/2008/03/28/89164759/a-victim-treats-his-mugger-right
According to the story, Julio Diaz was headed to his favorite diner. When he got off the subway, a teenage boy pulled a knife on him and demanded money.
Diaz gave the boy his wallet, and the boy started away.
Here is where the story goes differently than you might expect. Diaz called after the boy and offered his coat as well.
When the boy came back confused, Diaz then offered to share dinner with him at the diner.
Diaz and his mugger then sat down and broke bread together. While their meal progressed, the diner employees all came by the table to say hello to Diaz.
This also confused the boy. He wondered why everyone from the manager to the dishwasher all came to speak.
Diaz asked the boy if he was taught to be nice to everyone, and the boy said that he was but he didn't think anyone actually did it.
Clearly Diaz did.
He took someone who mugged him and showed him respect by treating him like a human being. He showed him empathy by understanding that the boy must be desperate to risk incarceration for a few dollars.
He showed us all the solution to most of our country's problems. He showed respect and empathy for all of his fellow human beings.
He didn't see any exceptions to his moral code, even faced with a knife.
Who knows what happened to the boy afterwards, but I guarantee you that Diaz's attitude helped in some small way.
It's too bad that fearful and hateful people, who believe some are beyond hope and undeserving of respect and empathy, will probably spoil whatever difference Diaz did make.
Whatever the case, Diaz's actions draw a line dividing one world of respect and empathy, from another of fear and hatred.
Which world do you want to inhabit? I sincerely hope that I have the courage to live in Diaz's.
As our culture becomes more rife with the attitude of "it's all about me," "what's in it for me" and "the rules don't apply to me," most of us seem to think the world owes us something.
Diaz has proven that it doesn't work that way. Nobody owes us anything. The truth is that we owe everything to everybody else.
We owe respect. We owe empathy.
James Gulledge is a reporter for the Minden Press-Herald.