Home > Contemplations > Not Good: Many On The Political Left Lack Empathy For The Entire Political Spectrum

Not Good: Many On The Political Left Lack Empathy For The Entire Political Spectrum


A note before I begin: To the friend I am referring to in this article. Know that you were just the catalyst for this particular post. I have had MANY similar discussions or been witness to many similar feelings in the past. I am not trying to single you out and, indeed, I am sure there are plenty of people with different political ideologies than yours who feel the same way as you seem to about people of different political ilks.

I got into a discussion recently with a friend of mine who considers herself a political liberal (never mind the specific political party she identifies with, that lowercase ‘l’ was deliberate).

The discussion I had with her wasn’t so much about politics – although I felt at many points there were attempts to dodge my questions and turn into a discussion about politics – it was more about people.

For the purposes of this post I am not going to be posting the conversation verbatim because that would be way too long and I don’t remember it all in every detail.

I asked her that hypothetically when George W. Bush had been president if she had heard he was shot at but had no idea whether or not he was hurt, alive, or dead, would she wish him well. Her response was that she wouldn’t care.

I was taken aback, but pressed on, asking, “But, isn’t George W. Bush, at the end of the day, just another person? Shouldn’t we care for all people and wish them all well?” Her reply was that George W. Bush probably didn’t care about her if she were to be in the same situation. While this is true – George W. Bush probably WOULDN’T care about her – it is more likely because he has no idea who she is. Further, the likelihood of the news of a random citizen in Toronto being shot at reaching someone like George W. Bush in Texas is highly unlikely so the reply, in my opinion, held no merit. To make it more personal and show you I don’t think my friend is unimportant, I am well aware I have a pretty big ego. Even though I have a big ego and while I have met with some pretty prominent political leaders in my time I know that if anything ever happened to me – not necessarily something involving a crime because that is way more likely to make the news – no one outside of my immediate family and friends would really care. This is very unlike when United States Senator Ted Kennedy – referred to by many as the “Lion of the Senate” – had a seizure during President Obama’s inauguration and was rushed to the hospital it was national and even international news.

When I questioned her about another political figure, this one a Canadian but I cannot remember which one so I am not going to name a name, she said she thought the man was a jerk because he was anti-abortion. Wait, what? He is a jerk because he is anti-abortion? As many of my longtime readers know I am not one to get involved in political debates in this space and I make a point to never take a side, politically, in this space. I am, therefore, not commenting on my own personal beliefs on abortion (but it is fair to say that it falls in line with a sizable percentage of the population). However, I can say with a fair bit of certainty that every single politician out there – no matter how partisan – believes that their political ideology is truly the right way for their country/province/state/city. That goes for all areas not just abortion but right now that’s what I am talking about. The ones who are against allowing abortion are not anti-abortion because they just want to be jerks and want to deny people the access to abortion. The people who are anti-abortion, in my experience, truly believe that it is murder and they are against murder.

I am not going to comment on whether or not it is murder but I am just pointing out that the stance they are taking is the exact opposite of what a jerk would do. Sure, you may interpret it as a jerk move because your conception of the situation is different but try to understand that these men and women are not advocating these things just to be mean. No, they are doing it because (a) they really and truly believe in their stance or (b) it will garner them the most votes (and the voters of their riding/region really believe in it).

My point in all of this is that I have found that people who identify themselves as politically left are very likely to have lost sight of what is real and true and important – people. Like I said, I am sure there are enough militant partisans on the right who feel the same way but I have yet to run in to them en masse like I have with people on the left. The sad thing is, is that these people don’t even see why what they’re saying is so very wrong.

What I am really trying to say and make clear is this: In this highly charged political environment we are currently living in in Canada, with a Federal Election around the corner I think we should all step back and think for a moment. While I may not agree with what your political beliefs are and what that politicians political beliefs are they are all still people. They are people who love their families and are loved by their families. They are people who are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, grandfathers and grandmothers. When something bad befalls them it is not a time to wish them harm, it is a time to wish them and their loved ones well. Just because you don’t agree with a political opinion espoused by someone it doesn’t mean they are the devil. They are still a human being just like you. Don’t demonize them to yourself, have empathy for them as fellow people.

This point was driven home all the more so when I told people that last Friday I went out to meet Mayor Rob Ford and when I met him he seemed like a really nice guy (again, politics aside). People I told this to, all who I would hazard a guess did NOT vote for Mayor Ford, seemed astounded to hear this. To me, Rob Ford seemed like the kind of guy I would want to sit down with and watch the game while we each had a few beers and yelled at the TV and maybe ripped on each other if we supported rivaling teams. To me, Rob Ford seemed more like a Don Cherry kind of guy vs a guy like Ron MacLean who, while immensely knowledgeable and seems to be a good guy, also seems like the more uptight academic type who one wouldn’t necessarily want to relax and have a beer with. (Of course, this could just be Ron MacLean’s TV persona and I mean no disrespect to this highly accomplished individual.)

Do you understand where I am coming from folks? Let’s take the hate and dehumanization out of politics and let’s try to have a little more empathy for each other from all sides of the aisle.

This post has already been published and I now realize its title is not fitting and after debating changing it have decided against it. I am going to let it stand as it is.

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  1. April 20, 2011 at 8:06 am

    Shared on Facebook. Curious, have you lost a friend? Stay strong.

    • April 20, 2011 at 2:19 pm

      Thanks for the share! No, I have not lost a friend due to that discussion. I, for the most part, do not discuss my own personal politics that much IRL or in this space. I used to be very vocal about it but in recent years have not been.

  2. Danah Ashcroft
    April 20, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Best Blog post ever.

    I did not vote Ford but I did have the pleasure to speak to him on hte phone and he is a nice guy. I just don’t agree with his policies not him as a person. And that is the same with all politicians.

    And at the end of the day we are all people and we should treat all people with compassion and concern. Blanketing people based on political leaning and disliking actual people for the political party they belong to or appear to belong to is what causes many of the worlds problems.

    And I would feel bad if I found out that a politician was hurt/killed or injured regardless of if they cared that I was (even W.). Compassion starts with you not the other person.

    Thanks for this great post. I hope it awakens many people.

    • April 20, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      Danah, I really appreciate that encouragement and am happy you think so highly of this post. I hope this helps awaken people too because political discourse is all fine and good and encouraged but there has to be a line drawn separating our feelings from people’s politics to the people themselves.

  3. April 20, 2011 at 4:24 pm

    Dan,

    First, let’s be clear. I’m on the left. I assume (based on some of your tweets & what’s artfully left unsaid in your post) that you’re not. For me, that’s cool. Similarly, as a Habs fan, I don’t hate you for being a Leafs fan either. I just reserve the right to think you’re a bit deluded from time to time. 😉

    That said, I think you’re correct with your post. A bit part of the reason our political culture is as toxic as it is, is due to a lack of empathy on both the left and the right. We see each other as political opponents rather than two humans who happen to disagree. Unfortunately, this lack of empathy leads to the distressing tendency of trying to cut off debate (whether it be to stop Sun News Network or Al Jeezera English, for example).

    I’ll finish off with a bit of a funny anecdote. As you know, I’m a big guy. So, during the Mayoral elections, even though I opposed Rob Ford, I got really annoyed with the persistent claim that “Rob Ford doesn’t look like a Mayor” when they’re really doing is making fun of his weight. Similarly I was disgusted with the recent NOW Magazine cover from a few weeks ago.

    So one day I happen to walk past Rob, Doug and Nick near Eaton Centre. I swear the first thought in my mind was “Oh thank G-d I’m not as big as Rob Ford!” 🙂

    Raymond AKA The Funky Barrister.

    • April 20, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      I actually make a new decision each and every election. However, I do generally identify more with fiscal conservatism & small government mentality. I am a big believer in the quotes attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “That government which governs least governs best.” and “A government big enough to give you everything you need, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.”

      Thanks for your comment and I am still not going to come down either way as to who I have voted for in the past. I will say that in the past I have offered people of different political opinions the opportunity to convince me to vote with their belief system. At the time I even pulled out my absentee ballot and a pencil and invited them to convince me. None accepted the challenge even the ones who minutes beforehand were most vocal in their political position and why mine was wrong. That is a large part of why I don’t feel a need to discuss my politics with every Tom, Dick, and Sally.

      I also truly don’t believe a person’s weight has anything to do with their ability to govern. That is what most people who are very Politically Correct will tell you but unfortunately the concept of being PC seems to go out the window when many of them begin dealing with people from a different political stripe.

      Again thanks for your comment and if you have any suggestions on a title change let me know!

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