Common Interest – Finding Empathy in Greed


When we hear the whistle of a distant siren or a see a flash of red zoom through our periphery, each of us knows what to do. It doesn’t matter how long ago we were supposed to be at that meeting. It doesn’t matter how desperately we needed to make it through that light. In that critical moment – the moment in which someone is in dire need – we transcend our sectionalized society and create a cohesive, automotive exodus.

The siren makes us human. It momentarily levels the playing field. A billionaire in a Bentley is on the same mental wavelength as a low-income gardener in a beaten down pickup truck. Class is rendered obsolete, race becomes trivial, and when that emergency vehicle whirls by, something clicks in the American psyche: a shared interest in each others’ well being. If I were in that ambulance, or if my house was burning down, we think to ourselves, I’d sure as hell want traffic to come to a halt.

And that’s why I think Democrats are wrong about Republicans and Republicans don’t have their priorities straight.

We liberals hurl all sorts of vitriolic accusations at the GOP — they don’t care about the little people, we say. They’re only looking out for themselves. And, yes, it looks that way from the outside. But a dominant pillar that carries much of the modern Republican platform is an oft-skewed hodgepodge of “American values” — the things that make Americans American; the flavors in the melting pot.

What are the quintessential American values? Mitt Romney would tell you that competition — economic opportunity — tops the list. He’d cite the “American Dream” and the hope of attaining a better life than one’s parents, the potential to ascend the ranks and make something from nothing.

Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express might say that the traditional “family” supersedes all values. The “sanctity of marriage,” they would explain, that “eternal institution between a man and a woman.”

It’s important to note, of course, that some values are more deeply rooted in specific regions of the country. Proponents of conservative macrocosmic economic values might make more noise around Wall Street than in East Los Angeles. “Family” values would surely carry more weight in red-coated areas like Arkansas and Mississippi than they would in Massachusetts.

But in their heady convolution and “ethical” assertions, Republicans seemed to have lost their identity; they’ve misplaced that famous moral compass of theirs. And here’s why Republicans have some soul searching to do: they’ve forgotten a key value.

Empathy, the idea of associating with another’s hardship and coming to their aid — a value that is put to the test each and every day on the streets of cities and towns nationwide — is an American value. The New Deal was an empathetic institution. The Civil Rights Act was steeped in empathy. (And, for the record, the Bible — from which Republicans derive so many of their values — commands each family to give a tithe, a tenth of its income as a tax.) The unique aptitude of Americans to sympathize, to momentarily and hypothetically walk in someone else’s shoes, stems not from partisan debate, but purely from human instinct.

Perhaps Republicans have a of “tough-guy” complex of sorts; something compels them try to paint themselves as living a more distant and apathetic existence than they actually do. When humanity becomes a factor in the equation of values, life transcends the petty arguments.

Republicans believe in American values. Empathy is an American value. Therefore Republicans believe in empathy.

Republicans believe in empathy. It is empathetic to care for those who are in need, those who cannot afford to pay major taxes. It is empathetic to extend unemployment benefits to those who are unemployed during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is empathetic to give a portion of one’s own share to make sure that someone else can buy another loaf of bread, have another week to find a job, live another day.

When the road moves again and the piercing screech of the siren dwindles, we know that we are cared for. We know that we’re not alone. It’s a matter of putting two and two together.

Republicans are inherently empathetic. I just wish they knew that.

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8 thoughts on “Common Interest – Finding Empathy in Greed

  1. The problem with these arguments for empathy is not an ethical one, it is the question of the appointed powers of government.

    Republican ideology is based on limited government. It is not the government’s job to be ethical if it means that it will overstep its appointed bounds.

    Fittingly, the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act were both passed by Democratic administrations.

  2. What a brilliant analogy… I agree with you in many ways. The 9-11 bill that took forever, but (thankfully) passed is a perfect example. I loved the way this post is written. That being said, I would like to hear how democrats could also work a little harder to work together. Thoughts?

  3. Ben’s got it right. Most Republicans believe that people will ct ethically on their own AND have the right to their own morals so long as that does not take away another person’s same right. That is why the emancipation proclamation was declared by a Republican and the Little Rock 9 found help from a Republican.
    Also, why are Democrats immune from moral scrutiny here? Let me pose a question. Since when did becoming rich mean that people cease to be people? Why are the rich vilified as the root of all problems, and demanded to give far more than their fair share when others who CAN are not required to when they should? Perhaps the Democrats have an “underbelly complex” where they’re both as weak and impotent as a soft underbelly in their attempts at empathy? Both sides have faults. But the problems of both sides are each more complex than a mere demeaning complex.

    • The Emancipation Proclamation was declared in the beginnings of the Republican Party, and if you asked historians or political experts anywhere they will tell you Abraham Lincoln would most certainly NOT be a Republican today. So nice try. And the rich are not vilified as the root of all problems, unfortunately, considering their track record with driving this country downward. However, I see your point and agree that both sides have an absurd amount of complex issues.

      • I googled it, and the only person I could find who said Lincoln wouldn’t be a Republican was President Obama. The rich do not have a “track record of driving this country downward.” That sounds more like a mishmash of incompetent people being in charge than rich people to me. And if you really hate rich people, go ahead and hate the government. The lowest salary for a government official is $174,000, excluding the benefits that, for example, make my (proudly) “Cadillac health insurance” look like a Chrysler.

  4. I think it’s a mistake to take Republicans (these are the politicians I’m talking about, not rank-and-file voters) at their word when they say they care about American values. In my view, the most important American value of all is the freedom we have to maintain differences of opinion while disagreeing in good faith, believing that all parties involved are simply trying to change our country for the better. However, with the capturing of the GOP by the corporate-funded, allegedly ‘grass-roots’ Tea Party movement, and the branding of Democrats and progressives by the likes of Sarah Palin as freedom-hating socialists out to destroy the very fabric of this nation, this sense of mutual respect and good faith has been all but eliminated from our political discourse. The Republicans are simply determined to put more wealth and power in the hands of those who already have too much, the well-being of the country and those not in the top 1% of income earners be damned.

  5. Be honest: When you’re driving, and you pull over for a fire engine speeding by, isn’t your first impulse to think: “I hope that’s not my house on fire.” ?

  6. If there is no empathy, justice isn’t present. The truth in your comments makes me sad: the red lights and screaming sirens AREN’T arousing the Republicans; therefore we are not a society of equals where justice, like empathy is inerent. Thank you for reminding us of this. Can we remind this truth to the Republicans with success? Who can point this out to them? It’s a necessity to do so…

    Thank you for this teaching.

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