Often, we look to our past while walking in the present on our way to our future. The biggest challenge is making sure you don’t smack into a wall because you aren’t paying attention. Please welcome our speaker as he shares his thoughts by posing a question, “Are we going where we’ve already been?”
With so much going on this July 4th, I thought upon a past Facebook post of mine, made shortly after the passing of Senator John McCain late August of 2018. The following is an excerpt of that post.
Empathy. I think on this word often, especially of late in the passing of Senator McCain. By now we’ve all seen the video of him taking the microphone away from his own supporter, still dripping vitriol, and wiping it away with the very own fiber of his being by defending Obama’s strength of character; all while not chastising the person.
So many of us seem to be so attached to our beliefs that, when challenged, we go into attack mode. It’s as if someone is daring to strip away our very identity. Internally, we vehemently shout, “You will not erase this part of me and replace it with yourself!” It seems, changing our minds, or at least opening them to the possibility of changing, scares the living hell out of us.
As I sat alone in my apartment on July 4th, the quietness on this of all evenings was rather eerie. For me, quietness often serves as a catalyst for introspection so I began browsing my catalogue of thoughts. After some time, I began thinking about rights, responsibilities, and people protesting against wearing masks because they feel it suffocates their freedom. In juxtaposition with George Floyd losing his life to suffocation by a public servant, my blood began to boil. These “facial freedom” protesters infuriate me and my knee-jerk reaction is to write them all off as entitled morons. They refuse to consider the well-fare of others because it creates an inconvenience for them. With these comments, my position on the matter should be quite clear.
Fortunately, when experiencing such strong emotions in an event such as this, I always challenge myself to stop and lend an empathetic ear to the opposing viewpoint. How does this event present itself within the confines of their reality? I may never have the same experience as them, but through empathy, can I at least gain insight into their emotional experience?
With all our advances and discoveries, all the ways in which we have furthered our species, we still fear the darkness outside our own caves and sometimes refuse to see the banality of that which has instilled such fear in us, even though it sits before us, illuminated by our fire.
It makes me think about history. When do the people and events in our daily lives transform from the happenings of today into the history of tomorrow? Is it just a day, a week ? Perhaps immeasurable? Is it even possible to avoid going where we’ve already been?
To that question, I answer in dissent.
In my intro, looking back was mentioned. For a moment, let’s take a very far look back in our history and fix our gaze upon Pompeii. The erasure of Pompeiian culture by Vesuvius was unstoppable, and today we are just as powerless. Pliny, a Roman poet, was a prolific writer. Through preservation of many letters he wrote, we have an insight into the event. Pliny states, “…the sighting of a column of smoke..triggered a response more of curiosity than of alarm.” Pliny’s uncle, Pliny the Elder, was aroused from his bath when he saw the first smoke columns. He confessed to Pliny that he too observed the was struck with curiosity rather than concern. Pliny the Elder’s admission is note-worthy because he was senior military officer and considered one of the most well-informed of his time. In fact, his 37 volume work of science, Natural History, has survived from antiquity and is the longest science-based work written in Latin.
We have vastly increased our ability to gather empirical scientific data and transform that data into information. Information that we can use to not only aid us during a natural disaster, but also to assist us in predictive analysis. In contrast, we are scientifically superior to our distant cousins. In comparison though, those first tools available to collect and interpret empirical data, human senses coupled with logical reasoning, are still in use today. Paramount to our survival as we face life in modern times are these same tools. Should we choose not to use them, life within the shadow of our own Vesuvius may one day be eliminated.
The next time you find yourself in opposition with someone, give yourself the opportunity to gain perspective. You may never know their anger, their pain, or their anguish, but use your own anger, your own pain, and your own anguish to help understand why they feel the way they do. Secure yourself in knowing that empathy and understanding don’t have to equal acceptance, but all three are essential in solving the human equation.
Finally, to leave you all with a bit of levity just remember this. It doesn’t matter how you hang the roll of toilet paper because either way we all have to use it.