Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Vets, empathy, and justice

Memorial Day, Empathy, GI Bill

The old vet in his envelope cap and wheelchair called to me as I hurried into Pick N Save Friday.

“Take this,” he said, holding out a red paper poppy, “and wear it.”

I started my “sorry” shrug: all I had was a debit card, no cash. But he stopped me before I could get shoulders and the palms of my hands up.

“It doesn’t matter. You don’t have to pay for it. Just wear it. Please,” he commanded.

And so I did. He paid for it, and I wore it.

Try as I might, I can’t imagine his experience. Whether he had been in Korea or Vietnam, he experienced things that only other soldiers can really comprehend. Most of them don’t try to make us understand, either because they want to protect us or because they’ve given up on us.

So we wear our poppies to say thank you, knowing how short the gesture must fall.

I feel humbled by my failure of empathy.  That’s a word much in the air these days, as the President gets ready to appoint a new Supreme Court justice. He dared to use the "E" word, and his political opponents have seized on it and begun the long, ugly process of turning empathy into a bad thing.

A simple definition from a faculty website at a community college in Alabama calls empathy the intellectual & emotional awareness and understanding of another person’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior, even when they are distressing. The emphasis is on understanding.

It’s one tool every judge should use in collecting and considering information. Empathy informs the intellect; it doesn’t replace it.

Senator John Kyle (R, Arizona)  has threatened the filibuster against any appointee  who decides on "emotions or feelings or preconceived ideas." “Simply deciding on the basis of feelings” is a phrase that shows up over and over in a Google search.

Of course, that’s not empathy, it’s spin. Obama asked for "not just ivory tower learning," but "somebody who has the intellectual firepower but also a little bit of a common touch and has a practical sense of how the world works."

Do you find the Republican’s plan to filibuster the Supreme Court justice appointment even before they know who is going to be nominated sort of . . .emotional? Perhaps it's rational to anticipate and plan your attack. But ironically, that cold reason aims the tools of pure (or impure) emotion at the public to make them decide on the basis of "emotions or feelings or preconceived ideas."  Nothing impartial about it.

Another emotional trigger: women. Obama’s looking at six women appointees, and those women will be liberal. That’s liberal according to my understanding (open minded), not according to conservative spin (crazy tax and spend empathetic stooge). One of them is even a lesbian, to use the other emotional-trigger "L" word.

I’m sure I’m not the first to note that the words “emotions or feelings”  are also code words for “things women have, but not us guys.”

A conservative Idaho blogger quoted Obama and followed with his own interpretation:

“[W]e need somebody who’s got the heart, the empathy, to recognize what it’s like to be a young teenage mom. The empathy to understand what it’s like to be poor, or African-American, or gay, or disabled, or old. And that’s the criteria by which I’m going to be selecting my judges.” (Emphasis mine [Utah blogger's])
In other words, in Obama’s world, justice is not in fact blind, impartially weighing evidence in the scales. No, Lady Justice is allowed to peek from behind her blindfold and tip those scales in favor of politically correct classes of people.

Have your emotions been stirred? Have you shut down your impartial mind to imagine what happens when a woman  justice meets Lady Justice? Do you believe that, confused by their hormones, they might consider the politically correct classes of people (whatever those are) as well as the politically incorrect ones (whatever those are)?

Oh wait: that sounds like fairness.

After years of appalling cuts to veterans’ benefits, there’s a new GI Bill with generous benefits for education and even living stipends. The Bush administration gets credit for setting the wheels of that piece of justice in motion. But I can’t help but think it would never have happened if empathy hadn’t been factored in along with the cold, hard numbers--what it would cost.

I’m pretty sure that empathy, also called “loving your neighbor as yourself,” entered the minds and hearts of the men who dominate the halls of decision-making in passing that bill. And that is as it should be.

Justice isn't blind. She sees everything. It's we who are wearing the blindfolds.

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