Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Empathy and Action

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Following closely on the heels of my “awe”  post last week, was a truly awe-striking event, namely the major upset in the presidential election. No matter what your political leanings, this result holds important lessons for us all, and we need to sit up and take notice.  This election, more than ever, seems to have people identifying strongly with one side or the other.  Are we losing some part of our individuality because of the extreme polarization that is occurring? And by taking a side are we less able to empathize with those with whom we disagree?

This week’s election coincided with many film screenings of the Boston Jewish Film Festival.  We shoot for those films that inform us about other cultures, ethnicities,  lifestyles and identities. Of the six movies we’ve seen so far, the common theme dealt with learning about the “other”.  Two screenings in particular did an excellent job of giving a bird’s eye view into two different cultures.  One film, Sandstorm, featured Bedouin families and their struggles to actualize within their patriarchal society.  Another screening was a TV series, Shtisel, about an ultra-orthodox rabbi and his extended family who has grown children and an aging, demented mother.  Both these films gave an inside look into the lives of people we would not otherwise get to “know”, and we learned that we have many similarities in spite of the rigidly prescribed roles within their cultures. We discarded many stereotypes we previously held due to the inside look into intimate details of their lives and emotions.  This greatly humanized the subjects for us.

Instead of continuing to live in my own little echo chamber, I’ve been reading and talking to Trump supporters to better understand them.  One believes that because Trump is beholden to no one, he has the freedom to make more independent choices. He also believes that since Trump wants to make American more self-sufficient with regard to energy, we won’t be as dependent on Middle East cartels, thus changing the power dynamic.  I was struck by the fact that I could truly listen to his ideas without getting angry because I’ve known him for years. I am also struck by Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who is an immigrant and a Muslim who supported Trump.  She believes he will bring back manufacturing jobs, and stand up to Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are some main sponsors of ISIS militants, who she feels are some of the biggest threats to America. I may not agree with their conclusions, but I can listen and do my best to see their side of the story.

After I tried to listen, understand and empathize, I’m still left with this need to act. There’s a lot that can be done at local levels. I have three clients who embody this activism; one who works tirelessly on gun control measures with a sizable group of people, another who works toward building affordable housing for low-income people in our city, and another who works with survivors of sexual abuse both individually and through workshops. These are but a few examples of ways to continue the “good fight” to advocate for and help those in vulnerable situations. Just as you build a foundation one block at a time, these people are helping build better futures for those who need it.

Another action step we can take is signing petitions for those causes and issues that we consider to be very counterproductive. When you go to petitions.whitehouse.gov you will see active petitions that concerned citizens have posted. (Spoiler alert: You may want to look at the one regarding the new EPA transition chief).

In the words of Hillary Clinton as she gave her concession speech, “Never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. We need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.”

I believe that one of the answers to fear is passion,  and the answer to apathy is activism.  Our nation’s future depends on you!

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