Sanctuary Claremont

The Empathy Project

Matt VanGent1 Comment

“Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. challenged and inspired a nation with these words more than half a century ago.  Today, although the separation may look a little different, his words still ring true. 

We are a nation divided, a people separated.  We are divided across political party lines. We are separated by income and gender inequality.  And, despite all the progress that has been made, we are still separated by race and nationality. 

We are a nation that is angry and afraid.  Angry with the conservatives because they are too conservative.  Angry with the liberals because they are too liberal.  Angry with those who disagree with us because, well, we are right and they are wrong.  And in all of this we are afraid, afraid that the other side poses a threat to our understanding of a life that is good and right for others and ourselves.

If Dr. King was right, and I believe he was, it is precisely because of our separation that we are so angry and afraid. 

The solution to this problem is not clever arguments, better data, or facebook tirades.  These don't bring people together; these just further divide us.

Rather, increasing our empathy is the way forward.  And, as Dr. King realized, the number one way to do this is to communicate with each other, specifically to listen to each other.

At Sanctuary, we believe in the power of a cup of coffee.  The taste is great and the caffeine is nice, but the real power lies in its potential to bring people together.

So here’s our challenge to you, let’s call it the empathy project: invite someone you know, someone who has a different perspective or life experience than you to have a cup of coffee together. 

Let’s lay some ground rules for this.  The purpose is not to win, but simply to listen.  Ask them about their family, their life growing up, anything to give you some insight into the way their opinions have been formed as a result of their experiences.  As a result, your empathy will grow.

(And here’s a little extra for you: studies have shown that just having a phone out on the table during a conversation causes the other person to view you as less empathetic.  So keep that phone in your pocket!)

As we continue to honor the life and work of Dr. King, let’s make every attempt we can to understand each other better, love each other more deeply, and tear down these walls that separate us.