I must say that while I am excited to think about the role emotions play in the decision-making process, I also found this week’s prompt incredibly challenging. As I shared with my amazing #TeamTuesday, this prompt brought up a lot of emotions. When I moved back to the US, I was told by white people that I should try to understand Trump supporters, and that I should just “grow thicker skin.”
Don’t get me wrong, I definitely understand the struggle of rural Americans. I understand that the concept of “privilege” is very different for them. I also understand the level of manipulation that has made a disenfranchised group of people believe that another oppressed group is their enemy. It is this system of manipulation that convinced low-income whites that their poverty is directly connected to immigrants in this country. It is maliciously brilliant to point fingers at an oppressed group instead of addressing the root cause and the policies of greed that have created an environment where the top 1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s wealth (source: Federal Survey of Consumer Finances). I get that. What I have a difficult time understanding is a decision based on hate.
I cannot logically justify someone voting for a white supremacist and sexual predator who has instilled so much hate towards my people. I do not understand how some can even vote against their own self-interest simply because their hate is stronger. How can I be empathetic towards those who hate my very own existence? How can I be empathetic to those who protest Planned Parenthood in the name of life and Christian values but ignore the lives of the innocent children who are caged at the border? Do they deserve my empathy when, in their eyes, my people are not worthy of theirs? Can I have empathy and still have boundaries to ensure that I am not attacked?
I find that it is much easier for me to empathize with the oppressed, but incredibly difficult to empathize with the oppressor, although I try. In fact, it has been empathy and honest curiosity that has held me back from reacting to hateful personal attacks. I have found empathy to be one of my strongest defense mechanisms in this new environment of normalized racism.
I also realize that power dynamics play a critical role. Can empathy be used to equalize power? Will we ever get there if only the oppressed are empathetic towards their oppressors? How do we gain power to spark social change and a radical transformation? How do we change the systems that have manipulated human beings to play into a system that oppresses human beings?
I guess I need to go back and re-read Paulo Freire. I want to believe that the oppressed will not only liberate themselves but also their oppressors. But, how do we abandon the oppressor’s tools? How do we develop and embrace our own? I guess, for now, I’ll just grow thicker skin while I continue to fight the systems of oppression and do my part to repair the world.
I continued to reflect on empathy for the rest of the week. I deliberately thought about empathy every time I disagreed with someone this week. When I started to feel that uneasiness with a statement, I automatically went to, “Why is _______ right?” While I am currently dealing with empathy fatigue, I am excited that this simple question, in essence, engages my intellectual abilities and minimizes the emotion. I believe that this skill will serve me well.
I realize that my empathy skills can be credited for my success at building and maintaining relationships. These relationships have contributed so much to CCWB’s work. I also realize that empathy is the foundation to CPA’s model. Understanding where all stakeholders are coming from creates a deep sense of connection and responsibility towards each other. I will definitely keep that in mind as we are building CPA in Colorado.
I truly appreciated your questions and reflections. The reality is that we are currently in a difficult space, but this too shall pass. For now, If I could have lunch with someone today, I would definitely choose Paulo Freire (and invite Sheila). I would love to hear his assessment of our current environment. What would he do if he were me? How would his approach change? What can we learn from this?
I also realize that I did not directly address the prompt. I, instead, dove into the philosophical side of empathy and the many components I am grappling with. I am no one to take shortcuts, so here is the condensed version of the assignment.
Why Funders Who Don’t Fund CCWB Are Right
CCWB is a fairly new organization. With only two and a half years of operation, some funders perceive us as a risky investment.
Funders prefer quick results. Changing systems is a very difficult and long process. It is much more attractive to funders when you can say, “we helped XX entrepreneurs with developing their marketing skills” than “we built XX relationships to eventually change the system.”
CCWB is a small organization with big goals. Does CCWB actually have the capacity to deliver? While we are nimble and flexible to community needs, we are a risky investment.
Funding CCWB can be a risky political move. Why would foundations want to be associated with agitating the system that has worked great for their entities? Investing in us might put them in a difficult position.
Thank you all again for your contributions!