Thursday, June 12, 2008

the power of human empathy

The stories told in Loeb's article are a moving testament to the power of human empathy. The story about the former drug addict and convict in Palo Alto was particularly moving for the simple fact that the power of the movement he started resulted in such drastic reductions in the rates of serious crime. The idea that real change can only come about through the telling of firsthand accounts is not a new one to me, but than manner in which Loeb described the power of human empathy gave renewed vigor to my previous opinion. In his narrative he depicts a universal emotional complex that is unique to humans (simply due to our gift of reason), but not unnoticeable in nature. The analogy of an organism in which what is good for one part is not good for others, is a poignant example of how a society must function together in order to achieve progress. Furthermore, his belief that a society can only properly function when its members are able to empathize with one another is an accurate prescription for overcoming the pitfalls which we as members of a modern society so often find ourselves falling into. The story of the Korean storekeeper who took it upon himself to take on a productive and interactive role in the life of the young African American is a pertinent example of what can happen when we are able to breakdown our problems to an individual level. It is only by seeing things on this level that we can begin to overcome widespread problems involving issues such as racial discrimination, economic disparity, or religious intolerance. Loeb's article had an overtly religious tone, which I thought in some instances took away from the legitimacy of his arguments. However, religion and human compassion are two concepts closely related to one another. Additionally, the idea of human interactions being able to overcome the woes of society when viewed through the unbiased eyes of enlightened individuals capable of seeing the bigger picture--is a motivational force to unlike that of religion.

The reading on the attacks of 9/11 was very intriguing. I had never heard a complete rundown of the exact manner in which the attacks occurred and the government (and aviation officials) responded, or failed to respond. By telling the story of what happened in a factual manner, the 9/11 Commission allowed not only the victims families, but the nation as a whole to better understand how something so disastrous could occur and how no individual group or authority was to blame. Telling these individual stories (as the other 9/11 reading did as well) allows us to see the events on a human level. This is not only crucial to the healing process, but to the process of rebuilding faith in our government leaders and in our national infrastructure as well.

The Loeb article lays out an argument for why the storytelling process is important to our interactions as a species, while the 9/11 readings show how such processes are vital to our everyday lives. This applies not only to our understanding of this particular national tragedy, but it is also true of other tragedies around the world. For instance, the usage of amnesty tribunals in which both perpetrators and victims of ethnic violence are able to come forward and tell their stories without fear of retribution--is an essential part of healing and moving forward. The ability of human beings to relate to one another and breakdown artificial walls is a truly marvelous example of the unique nature of our species. It is shows the potential we have for overcoming the problems that we face today and in the future as individual societies and as a global community.

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