Wealth, as you know it, is concentrated to the very select few, the elevated 1%; and the stark divide between haves and have-nots is–unimaginable. Quite literally, it is too stark even to imagine. Yes, we can regrow limbs and traverse space and create light at will, we can invent new species and communicate globally in real-time — but these were all victories borne of moral failings.
These successes were achieved through the rape of the natural world, through the death of those who had nothing beyond their life to take. These wonders of science are built atop the graves of unremarked people with unremembered names from unmade cultures, justified with an idea of progress and inevitability, doublespeak for profit and personal gain. And they are pursued, often, by those for whom all their wealth could never buy the one thing they truly lack: empathy.
Empathy is the true magic of the world, a madness by which you, and I, presumably would not be averse to each suffer.
Why should I care for the fate of a street cat, except that I can understand the long aching chill? Why would I forego my meal for a stranger, except that I can know the stabbing pangs of being without? This is the connection we forge with others around us, if we allow it – if we allow that we recognise ourselves in others. Children are born knowing this; they are taught to forget, made afraid and smug and isolated. These children who grow afraid, for whom people not just exactly alike themselves are therefore different and lesser, these are the children grown into adults who see wealth in terms of money and prestige rather than connection and community. These prestigious adults fear the other, because they are now unfamiliar with seeing themselves in those other; their learning tells them that different is synonymous with dangerous.
We may be unable to imagine the stark divide, that gap in expectation and reality as lived by those above or below us, but we can imagine our world being changed from what it is now. Children who grow curious and not afraid, growing into adults who see a continuum of us. We can imagine adults who would reach out their hand to give, not to take. We can imagine what steps we might make now, to bring that changed world closer.
Children shown that caring, that kindness, is rewarding of and by itself: allowed to clean that river, allowed to rescue that puppy, allowed to share that meal with another, allowed to laugh together and play together and be vulnerable in a shared sense of connection. Allowed because the adults around them will be vulnerable — will build a longer table, and not a taller fence.
Empathy feels vulnerable, because it is a connection reflective of each other’s sense of self. And so empathy can seem, to some, as a dangerous thing, a foolish thing. I have been told that my hyper-empathy makes me too trusting, too willing to be vulnerable with others. I rather take that risk, and be curious, and be kind. And that may mean that those prestigious few without empathy, for whom life has taught to fear, might see me as different and lesser. It may mean that these isolated others will strike with their hands, or their words, and while I will hurt, I will moreso feel poorly for them. How curious they must have been, to have been taught such fear. How different they must feel, how alone. Smug, and justified, and alone.
I rather build a table, knowing that someone someday might smash it, might thieve the food from it; knowing that when I can help I do everything in my power, because it is needed.
I rather be true to who I am, than to be beholden to the fear that was forced upon me. I rather be curious than afraid. And I imagine the changed world around us if this empathy were still in the heart of those very select, elevated few, for whom the modern world turns. How beautiful, how kind.
Perhaps we would not have instantaneous communication, not such a breadth of gadgets and clothing and habitation. But I think we could trade those things for a shared connection, a community of seeing and caring for another without sole regard to one’s wealth or status. Perhaps our world and its people would not be so sick – human people, yes, but all the rest, those people who speak no human language and take no human form. We might have chosen moral exactitude rather than material aptitude.
The fact that we live in this world as it is now does not mean we cannot live in that changed world. It does not mean we cannot learn, or unlearn. It means we can practice empathy whenever the opportunity arises: we can practice kindness in the face of anger, trust in the presence of fear, and a rekindled spark of curiosity for the world.
Ye of one thousand questions, ask one more.
What of ourselves have we got to lose?