For Christmas, please bring our country a big sleigh-load of empathy.
You know, empathy. Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes. It’s the willingness to imagine what another’s experience might feel like, even if our personal experience is quite different.
For sure, we need a lot of empathy this year. Some people seem to need more than others, so I’ll trust you to dole it out generously and fairly. Toys and other goodies are welcome too.
You see, Santa, many people in our country are experiencing great distress and fear about the results of the November presidential election.
Many others are confused about why people are distressed. Others are not confused — they are clear in their criticism and judgment. “Get over it,” they say. “You’re being a baby,” they say. “You’re just coddled,” they say.
However, the distress is real. Many people — including my clients, past clients and others — are terrified about their physical safety, the safety of their children or other family members. Others are worried if they will find or keep jobs, housing or health care in this post-election atmosphere.
Their fear is based on the fact that the person who has been elected president has talked of deporting Mexican immigrants and encouraged people to hit and hurt other people —particularly black people, Muslims, protesters — during his rallies. He hasn’t been kind to the disabled —remember his mocking of a reporter with a disability? — and has embraced white supremacists. He’s admitted to sexual assault and makes vulgar comments about women and their fat bodies.
His vice president wants to legalize discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. He believes that gays who want to marry should face felony charges. He supports defunding Planned Parenthood, which offers heath care to women and men, including contraception and cancer screenings. He wants to stop health care funding for people with AIDS and HIV, with monies instead going to “gay conversion therapy” that sometimes includes exposure to heterosexual pornography and electroshock treatment.
These are not the worries of overactive imaginations. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that tracks hate crimes, has documented nearly 900 bias-related incidents in just 10 days after the presidential election:
Reports of black children told to ride at the back of school buses; the words “Trump Nation” and “Whites Only” painted on a church with a large immigrant population; and an elderly gay man being pulled from his car and beaten by an assailant who said “The president says we can kill all you faggots now.”
Recently I heard from a Lancaster man, upset about a woman friend who lost a job contract after a group of men in her workplace told her they didn’t need to be “politically correct” any more.
So Santa, with your gift of empathy, we might imagine how scary it might feel to be a young woman, a Muslim born in the United States, modestly dressed, being subjected to vulgar threats and invective calling her a foreigner.
We might imagine that you’re a young parent with your two-year-old child looking for Hanukkah decorations in a neighborhood store. Your child is excited about the colors and shapes, as children are, and while you’re sorting through the merchandise another shopper glares at you and calls you “nasty Jews.” Only she doesn’t say “nasty.” She says a seven-letter word that I can’t use in a family newspaper.
We might imagine that you’re a black teenager who’s been homeless for a year because your parents kicked you out of the house after you told them that you are gay. Through determination, you managed to graduate from high school and are heading for your first job. It’s minimum wage but you’re excited and hopeful. Then a white man bumps your shoulder and with a sneer, mocks your pink sweater vest.
And, Santa, while you’re delivering empathy, please send a few boxes to people who’ve been verbally or physically attacking supporters of the newly elected president.
Empathy allows us to draw closer to other people. We find we understand each other better. We notice that we want to feel dignity and strength and receive respect and love. We feel the delicacy of life and realize that we are all vulnerable in one way or another.
We feel more connected, more human, more able to realize the preciousness of life and what we have to contribute that is good. And that is the greatest gift of all.
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Lancaster. She is a former features editor of what was then the Intelligencer Journal and now is LNP.