17 August 2009

Imagine standing in that person’s shoes

@RedSpiciness August 17 on #iranelection

I tried to stay away, but I saw Isa's son's video and couldn't stay away. I love the brave heroes of Iran. I have a busy life and many responsibilities pressing on me and I don't think anything I say or do can help freedom in Iran. In fact I WORRY that anyone in Iran caught on Twitter will be sent to jail and tortured for looking at the pictures and videos. But when I see beautiful and successful and healthy people sacrificing themselves for their beliefs, how can I also not care? Even if there were only one person left in Iran still willing to stand up against the fascists at such risk, I support him/her.

It is one of the most painfully heartbreaking experiences of my life watching Iran destroy itself, and massacre its own people. I've cried night after night seeing the horrendous pictures and videos of the most cruel and cold-hearted criminal acts done. It got to where it became sickening to me, to the point where I wanted to be sick in the bathroom, I couldn't take any more. How can any government allow such things? How can it pay for such things? How can it encourage these things? I'm so confused.

I'm just an ordinary person, small fish in a big pond, no power, no connections, no money. What can I do? All I can do is care. Some are born to greatness, others achieve it, and others have greatness thrust upon them & some Iranians try to kill them all.

One of my old teachers picked three students to stand at the front of the class one day, then he put a big backpack full of rocks on one student. He asked the class, "What do you think?" The class didn't know what to say. Someone said, "That's not fair." Minutes ticked by The teacher added more big rocks to the backpack. People became embarrassed. Then one of those standing next to Backpack Boy lifted up the backpack and took it off him. The teacher said, What do you think you're doing there? And he said: I'm helping my friend. "Why?" "It's unfair. He needs help." The teacher said, "You've passed the test. That's the correct answer."

"The biggest deficit that we have in our society and in the world right now is an empathy deficit." ~ Barack Obama

So much of what binds us together in society and allows it to function effectively depends on it. And so much of what is wrong with how we interact, and so much of what is wrong with our politics, has to do with the absence of that quality. Cultivate empathy, put yourself in other people's shoes. See the world from their eyes. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world - one that makes you understand that your obligations to others extend beyond people who look like you and live in your neighborhood.

It's not always easy. You will encounter all kinds of obstacles in the way of empathy. You will find people who, out of fear or need for power, try to divide us and deny what we have in common. As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. No one can force you to care. You'll be free to narrow your concerns to what's going in your own little circle, with people who are exactly like you.

Our culture discourages empathy. It tells us our principle goal in life is to be rich/thin/young/famous/safe/and entertained. It shakes us out of complacency. We are all forced beyond our limited vision. No one's exempt from the call to find common ground. In the end a sense of mutual understanding isn’t enough. After all talk is cheap. Like any value, empathy must be acted upon.

Until we can restore that sense of mutual obligation that we have to have for one another; until we can remind people that we are only as strong as the weakest among us; that we are our brother’s and our sister’s keepers; that there is more that connects us than divides us; if we cannot see ourselves in one another regardless of gender/race/class/religion, then we will struggle.

This will not be easy. Because the change we seek, to stand in another's shoes, requires overcoming our fears and our own doubts. This will not be easy, but America's story tells me it's possible. My story tells me it's possible. It's possible. Yes, we can

We've been told: Don't worry about anybody else, take care of yourself. But we have a duty to sacrifice and compromise for each other. The only time I ever saw my mother really angry is when she saw cruelty, when she saw somebody being bullied or somebody being treated differently because of who they were. And, if she saw me doing that, she would be furious. And she would say to me: "Imagine standing in that person's shoes,. How would that make you feel?" That idea, I didn't always understand, stayed with me.

Jesus told us to "Love thy neighbor as thyself". The Torah commands, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." In Islam there is the hadith that reads "None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself." The same is true for Buddhists and Hindus, for followers of Confucius, and for Humanists. It is, of course, The Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule is merely the call to love one another to understand one another, to treat each other with dignity and respect. It is an ancient rule, a simple rule, but also perhaps the most challenging, for it asks each of us to take some measure of responsibility for the well- being of people we may not know or worship with or agree with on every issue or any issue. Sometimes it asks us to reconcile with bitter enemies or resolve ancient hatreds, and that requires a living breathing, active faith

Bearing witness is not the end of our obligation it’s just the beginning. We know that evil has yet to run its course on Earth. We’ve seen it in the mass graves, in the villages burned to the ground, in children used as soldiers, of rape used as a weapon. There are those who insist the Holocaust never happened, and perpetrate hatred that degrades its victims and diminishes us all.

Fight the impulse to turn away when we see images that disturb us or take false comfort that other’s sufferings are not our own. Instead, recognize ourselves in each other, commit to resist injustice and intolerance and indifference in whatever forms they take whether confronting those who tell lies about history, or doing everything we can to prevent and end atrocities like Rwanda.

Fulfilling these obligations requires courage. But in the end I believe history gives us cause for hope rather than despair. Like the hope of a people who've overcome oppression since the days of Exodus; a nation rising from the terror of a Holocaust. The hope too, of those who not only survived but chose to LIVE, teaching us the meaning of courage and resilience and dignity.

What a stunning act of faith to bring a child into a world that's shown so much cruelty and that in the end you have a duty to life. We find cause for hope in Protestant and Catholic children attending school together in Northern Ireland. We find cause for hope in Hutus and Tutsis living side-by-side, forgiving neighbors who have done the unforgivable. We find cause for hope in our fellow citizens of the world showing us how to make the journey from oppression to survival.


I have been quoting from various speeches made by United States President Barack Obama, elected in a free and fair democracy. Some day the great people of Iran will have a new democratic election, and they will vote and their votes will be counted honestly. Some day Iran will have a new president, perhaps even a new government from top to bottom. This I know, and if you're sane you do too.

Human beings were never meant to be enslaved. True we can be lower than the dust, but also true, we can be better than angels. We need to see that in each other, both the good and the bad, and treat each other like the angels we're all meant to, WILL become.

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