Most Americans think Congress is broken and rightly so. The 113th Congress did next to nothing while we faced countless shutdowns and perhaps more importantly the constant threat of a shutdown—an episode we saw repeated more often than an episode of Seinfeld. Many argue that the root of all of this is the lack of the willingness to compromise amongst legislators. However, what’s truly at the heart of it all is a lack of empathy within the American people that is being manifested in Congress and amongst our leaders.
Empathy is seeing the world from another’s point of view without casting aspersions or passing judgment; it’s looking at how a decision impacts others, not just the individual. And, once upon a time, that was our goal as a nation. We improved as a country not because of progressive or conservative policies, but because we found the perfect mixture of capitalistic ideologies and civic empathy and passed legislation based on that balance.
The modern era of political party extremism and party “loyalty” has led us the down the path of not only neglecting to discuss the importance of empathy, but also admonishing the slightest hint of it, and quite honestly, it’s getting ridiculous. Is this lack of empathy unique to our leaders, or are they merely a representation (no pun intended) of our society at large? Are we voting based off of what candidates are saying they will do collectively for our community, or what candidates will do for us as individuals?
If we can regain touch with empathy as a society, we can regain faith that our leaders are doing what’s best for our country and our communities. We can empower our leaders to stand up boldly and empathize with different groups without fear of their statements becoming political fodder. We can have open and honest conversations with each other with the goal of understanding instead of the goal of proving. In a nation as diverse as the United States (in all ways imaginable) empathy is the only thing that we will be able to count on to improve our country.