Saturday, February 18, 2012

I Am Another Yourself

This past week my students discussed the Israel-Palestinian conflict, reading Joe Sacco's Palestine and some handouts from If Americans Knew to gain some nuance on the one-sided perspective they've probably gotten from the news most of their lives. After hearing about so many injustices and atrocities, one student wondered aloud: "How can people come to not see others as human?" What a question, one to sit with for a while. We might also turn that question around and ask: How can we come to see everyone as human?

When Jesus gives the Great Commandment, he quotes God's command to the Jews in Leviticus 19:18: "Love your neighbor as yourself." To clarify exactly what is meant by that, God adds in no uncertain terms: "When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the LORD your God" (Leviticus 19:33). Nothing is more important than loving as oneself. But the question remains, how do we do it?

We are responsible for the material needs of the neighbor/foreigner/other: food, security, legal rights, police protection, health care, wages, affordable housing, transportation, education, employment. But if we do not see others as human, it is no wonder that we do not treat them as humans. If we are going to treat others as humans, we have to see others as humans.

We need practices that will rewire our hearts and minds. For instance, we might adopt the traditional Mayan greeting "In Lak’ech," which means: "I am another yourself." Imagine saying that to everyone you come across in the day, instead of "How are you?" or "Good morning."

The more I read stories (like those in Palestine) of people whose lives are  in various ways very different and very similar to mine, the more convinced I become that the primary way to develop empathy is through hearing others' stories: reading a novel or a poem, watching a documentary, listening to an interview, having a conversation over coffee, etc.

To practice compassion, we must practice empathy. To practice empathy, we must practice imagination. To practice imagination, we must listen to the stories of others. We must imagine what it is like to live as another person, how that is similar to our experience and how it is different. My prayer is that we will grow in this equation: love :: compassion :: empathy :: imagination :: stories.


living stones said...

Paul, I am really encouraged with how you are helping your students make meaningful connections between their theology and their living faith. It seems to me the deep seeing and listening we need to practice can lead to real change if our desire is rooted in God’s love. Living out love is hard, so it’s helpful to know our source. Also, it’s important to know who should get the glory when the impossible becomes possible. Hence, I have an addition to your equation which begins with love; I would add love once again at the end—an unending circle!
--Blessings, Anna

Daniel said...

Paul, I love the simple and practical forwardness of this post! From the appropriate question, "How can we come to see everyone as human?" to the examples of developing a posture and practice of intentional empathy. May we take this to heart!

Blog Archive