I Can’t Breathe – Compassion, Empathy and Human Kindness

I’ve stayed largely silent with regard to what has been going on in Ferguson the last few months, the I Can’t Breathe campaign, and the current protests taking place all over the nation, mainly because this is predominately a humor blog, but also because I needed some time to consider these situations on a deeper level.

What I felt that I needed to do was objectively consider what’s going on from more than just the perspective of the African-American community and police officers. In order to do that, I had to boil it down even further. When I step back and take in the bigger picture, what I think we’ve got are symptoms of a significantly larger problem.

If we take a look at the human condition, we are born with an ability to empathize. The only people without empathy are psychopaths (and they make up far less than 3% of the population of the world – www.wikipedia.com).

So if we’re innately empathetic, how do so many of us lose the ability, or create a systematic process of empathizing with some and not all? It sounds improbable, but it’s happened for thousands of years throughout history, and is still happening today.

Let’s take a look:

Amazon Rainforest   The Amazon Rainforest, also sometimes described as the “lungs of the Earth” because it produces 20% of our planet’s oxygen, contains 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon that assists in stabilizing the local and global climate. Deforestation continues as I type this.



Nazi Germany – WWII   Adolf Hitler successfully convinced German citizens to think of Jewish and mentally handicapped people as sub-human, sending over 11,000,000 to their death.


Slave Trade – Slavery has been around for well over 11,000 years, and practiced in every part of the world. Today, slavery is illegal in every country, however, human trafficking claims the lives of over 26 million people right now.


Rwandan Genocide 1994 – The Hutu’s are instructed to cleanse rival group the Tutsi’s, and over the course of three months, 800,000 Rwandan citizens are murdered.


Abortion and Capital Punishment – not only are abortion and capital punishment both legal in the United States, both topics are surprisingly divisive between religions and political parties, but not for the reasons that always appear to follow their own logic. Those identifying with more liberal politics, tend to support abortion, but abhor capital punishment and “playing God”, however, those identifying with a more conservative political party, tend to support pro-life initiatives, feeling we shouldn’t “play God”, but are also in favor of capital punishment.

These are just a few examples I chose to illustrate where I’m going. It is possible for us to become conditioned to seeing only one side, the one that makes sense to us, and be incredibly loving and sensitive toward anyone or anything that falls within that category. However, we can simultaneously lose all empathy for that which doesn’t fall into that category.

Are we too divided?

We are born without the ability to hate, to see one another as flawed, to discriminate, decide someone is “less than” or a “minority”. Those are ideas and labels created by man, not by nature. The divisiveness in our world is causing more harm than good. There’s an interesting dichotomy among belief systems, political parties, cultures and races; wanting to remain true to our roots, to be accepted as we are, but wanting to live a peaceful, harmonious existence.

Let’s look at just some of the labels and identities we take on in our country:

Political Parties (here are just a few)

  • Republican
  • Democrat
  • Independent
  • Libertarian
  • Green
  • Modern Whig
  • Pirate Party (I’m not making this up, founded in 2006, wikipedia.com)
  • Communist
  • Freedom Socialist
  • Justice
  • Objectivist
  • Peace and Freedom
  • Prohibition
  • United States Marijuana Party
  • Reform Party of the United States

Religion (again, just naming a few)

  • Roman Catholic
  • Greek Orthodox
  • Evangelical Christian
    • Black Baptist
    • Dutch Reformed Church
    • Mennonite
    • Catholic charismatic
    • Southern Baptist
  • Protestant
    • Adventist
    • Anglican
    • Baptist
    • Congregational
    • Methodist
    • Pentecostal
    • Presbyterian
    • Reformed
    • Lutheran
      • Wisconsin Synod
      • Missouri Synod
      • Evangelical Lutheran
  • Buddhist
    • Theravada
    • Mahayana
    • Zen
    • Tibetan
    • Pure Land
    • Tantric
  • Ba’hai Faith
  • Hindu
    • Saivism
    • Shaktism
    • Vaishnaivsm
    • Smartism
  • Islam
    • Sunni
    • Shi’ite
    • Sufi
  • Taoism
  • Sikhism
  • Wicca
  • New Age
  • Atheism

What about other labels?

  • Marital Status
  • Educational Status
  • Socioeconomic Status
  • Health Status
    • Smoker/Non-Smoker
    • Drinker/Non-Drinker
    • Handicapped
      • mentally
      • physically
      • emotionally
    • Overweight vs. Thin
  • Veteran
  • Career/Occupation
  • Hobbies/Interests

Even further still...some of which are forced upon us...

  • overachiever
  • worrier
  • stoner
  • slacker
  • hard-worker
  • nerd
  • hipster
  • old
  • young
  • pretty
  • ugly
  • slut
  • goody-two-shoes
  • player
  • dork
  • douche bag
  • Don Juan
  • air-head
  • lazy
  • opportunist
  • capitalist
  • pessimist
  • optimist
  • athlete
  • workaholic
  • alcoholic
  • over-eater
  • addict
  • loser
  • anorexic
  • victim
  • perpetrator
  • rapist
  • murderer
  • drunk
  • idiot
  • slow
  • fat
  • mean
  • sweet
  • thoughtful
  • angry

What about the labels we’re born with? We don’t choose our race:

  • African-American
  • Asian American
  • Pacific Islander
  • Native American
  • Alaskan Native
  • Hispanic or Latino American
  • Native Hawaiian
  • European American

(I apologize if you’re not on my list, there’s no way I’ll capture them all…)

When we identify with a group, organization, religion, ethnicity, nationality, team, race, gender, political party, etc. we take on their belief systems, rules, persona, language, cultural customs, practices and habits. Now I understand that’s not blanketed – I personally become frustrated when I’m expected to agree with everything the political party I most closely align with suggests that I “should” feel a certain way about a topic that I absolutely don’t agree with. But to someone of another political influence, they might assume I agree with my party, and why wouldn’t they?

What happens when we’re part of any group that staunchly defends or supports anything, is that we run the risk of not only being misunderstood, but also of completely closing ourselves off to anything someone outside our group is trying to say.

Everyone wants and deserves to be heard. When we see protesters blocking roadways or rioters destroying their own city, it’s a product of never feeling heard. It’s a symptom of a larger issue.

But what is that larger issue? What was the deeper root cause I’d been searching for?

The very root of all violence is pain.

Throughout my life, I’ve always wondered how holding up signs, or throwing rocks through store windows and screaming at passersby was going to solve anything. The same behavior was displayed during Hurricane Katrina in 2004. What were the rioters hoping to accomplish?

No one can hear us when we’re yelling. I may absolutely agree with you, but if you’re screaming in my face, I’m loathe to try to understand what your intentions are. All I know is that you’re screaming in my face.

This is an example of Democrats and Republicans once again lashing out at one another rather than coming together to create solutions. Check out this link from the Huffington Post, summarizing Jon Stewart’s (of The Daily Show) recent comments toward Brian Kilmeade, a host of the Fox News show Fox and Friends (don’t read if you’re easily offended by cuss words).


With respect to both parties, this behavior doesn’t create solutions.

Let’s think about what we are really feeling, and what we’re really asking for.

Check out my lists above and understand that within every one, people are identifying closely with those beliefs, customs, traditions, and practices, and every single person thinks they’re right. 

Is it time we looked at one another and decided that we are done separating ourselves into that which divides us, so much so that we have stopped hearing one another? I see no solutions and no changes happening until we peacefully come together to hear one another out; until we can agree that we don’t politically, theologically, or economically agree on everything, and that’s okay.

Compassion, empathy, and basic human kindness. 

I see a country that has gotten so far away from being able to love anyone who is not like ourselves, that we have lost our ability empathize and show compassion. History has shown us that this is a dangerous path to take.

I’d urge everyone to stop the noise in your own minds, step back, and just listen to the other side; whichever one that is. Not with judgment and criticism, but with an open mind and heart.

Just listen.


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