A double-dose of empathy?

I used to get road rage. Like, real road rage. It was bad. I mean, I’ve never gotten into a physical altercation with another motorist, but I’d be lying if I told you there weren’t several occasions on which I’d gotten out of my car. Not my proudest moments, hypothetically. COVID means I haven’t been on tour and since I’m not in my car all the time, you’d think my road rage would calm down a bit. The opposite is true. It turns out, being on the road all the time actually gave me a callus for bad drivers. Not being on the road rid me of this callus and on the rare occasions I found myself driving, my road rage was worse than ever.

The cause of my road rage is always the recklessness of other drivers. Always. It angers me to no end how thoughtless, selfish and even malicious some can be when others’ lives are at stake. But, you know, a Black man getting out of his car yelling in traffic is tempting fate, so I needed to make a change.

So, I did.

I figured if my problem was others’ lack of empathy, then I’d just double up on my own. I decided to grant everyone an assumption of emergency. That guy who stepped out in front of me at a green light? Well, he probably just received the worst news of his life. That guy who cut me off? He’s probably rushing to give a family member a ride to the hospital because they can’t afford an ambulance. The guy riding my tail? Same guy, with the family member in tow.

You know what? It worked. I’m not going to tell you it wasn’t a struggle, and it definitely took a minute, but it absolutely worked. Last night a BMW flew up behind me on a windy country road. He was less than a foot away from me with LED headlights so bright I’m sure the driver could see my skeleton. I thought to myself, this guy’s probably got a cooler with a beating heart inside trying to get to the hospital! I just pulled over, the guy rocketed past me and my heart rate didn’t raise a single BPM.

This country often thinks of its own problems around race similarly—single, problematic individuals who we need to empathize with. They just don’t know any better, right? If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know that’s wrong. Personally, as far as arguments with racist individuals go, I don’t have them. I don’t engage at all. If I’m going to argue with someone, they need to have a certain level of education on the subject. Education primarily comes from experience and/or study and anyone who’s ever tried to argue with me about race has never had either.

Also, when it comes to single individuals, the problems with race in America are perpetuated much more often by the less obviously racist.

The core problem, of course, is not the individual, but the systems that are designed to empower racists and their ideas throughout the country. For example, last week a Louisiana judge got caught on tape laughing and yelling the n-word. The systemic problems caused by a racist judge can be obvious, and so the solution can seem obvious: fire the judge. The deeper problem is that she comes from a community that allowed these ideas to flourish or flat out encouraged them. The same can be said of the educational institutions that accredited her and the legal institutions that enabled and rewarded her.

The problems with COVID-19 are frustratingly similar. Even though this is a systemic problem, we are led to blame the individual. The numbers go up and we’re told it is the fault of the unvaccinated. Well, we all started as unvaccinated and since then the majority of us have either been vaccinated or died. There are fewer and fewer unvaccinated people every day, as has been the pattern since the vaccines were made available. Clearly the recent enormous rise in COVID cases and deaths cannot be caused by the ever-shrinking number of the unvaccinated.

On November 26, 111 people went to a party in Oslo, Norway. Even though all were fully vaccinated and all tested negative before entering, the party ended with 80 of the attendees infected with COVID-19. Vaccines are not enough, tests are not enough, and blaming the unvaccinated is not enough.

Yes, assholes exist. As far as I can tell they always have and always will. We can bet our lives hoping that every single one of them will suddenly and permanently mend their ways—which absolutely will not happen—or we can find empathy within ourselves and demand systemic change. Despite test or vaccination status, you can still become infected and still put others at risk. Don’t do that. Don’t go to parties. Don’t go to restaurants. Don’t travel. Stay home. And while you’re at home push for mask mandates in your community. Contact your representatives and demand stimulus checks and shutdowns.

We know what to do. We’ve just got to do it.

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1 thought on “A double-dose of empathy?”

  1. Thank you. This resonated on many levels and is the right message for the moment we are in. Thoughtfulness, empathy and action.

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