It sometimes seems we live in a culture that cultivates suspicion and mistrust and without wishing to reveal my self admitted political naivety, it seems to me that consumer capitalism pretty much relies on the populous wanting more, remaining chronically competitive and dissatisfied with their lot. Our society seems increasingly dystopian and dehumanizing, with the result that as individuals it appears we feel increasingly alienated, lonely and unhappy despite our relative material wealth.
The result? An American public many of whom look up to a man who believes there should be surveillance on US mosques, that Muslims should be tracked by law enforcement as a counterterrorism initiative and is in favour of a mass deportation of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the US, despite criticism that this idea is both xenophobic and prohibitively expensive.
Closer to home, it’s been difficult to avoid the latest headlines scattered through across the pages of the internet, “Enemies Of The People” screeches the Daily Mail, “Who do EU think You Are ?- Loaded Foreign Elite Defy Will of Brit Voters” proclaims The Sun, on the three judges who ruled that parliament rather than The Prime Minister would have to trigger article 50 and begin Britain’s exit from the EU.
Perhaps even more alarming was The Daily Mail’s headline story on Wednesday, announcing that seventeen foreign registered lorries were spotted by their hidden cameras on the M20, their drivers using mobile phones whilst driving. It goes without saying that nobody would condone the actions, but the tone of the article is blatantly inciting xenophobia.
Technology whilst making it easier to share information, does everything to discourage real connection and it takes a conscious effort and practice to fully engage without prejudice, something that it seems we find increasingly challenging. It’s not difficult to see how this has happened in a world where time is money and the relentless forward drive for productivity and achievement encourages us all to push onwards with our own agenda, leaving little time for cultivating empathy and tolerance.
As a single individual it seems overwhelming to effect change in society for the better in the face of such global stirrings of dis – ease and it’s tempting, as a result to abscond all responsibility. But, perhaps the way to make a difference is to go back to the most basic of human values, to foster connection, in even the smallest way, is to make a difference and take a step towards recognising a common humanity. This wonderful Amnesty International video makes a point – how easy is it to disconnect from our fellow humans if we never really see them?
There are moves at foot to address these issues:
Philosopher Theodore Zeldin has suggested that by drawing together different groups, for example CEO’s and homeless people, and encouraging conversation, it is possible to create a tiny bit of understanding and equality – that’s how you change the world, using a microcosmic strategy, one conversation at a time.
Oxfam’s Empathy Education program adresses the teaching of empathy in schools and goes as far as suggesting that not to do so is to ignore our common humanity and interconnectedness, and misses an important opportunity for fostering social change.
As far as I can see, at its heart, love means understanding and it’s something that can be practiced on the most basic level. By slowing down occasionally, often in the midst of a stream of judgmental and less than beautiful thoughts and looking deeply into our companion, it’s possible to see them as another human, sharing the same hopes and fears. Thich Nhat Hahn explains it beautifully in this short and inspiring talk: deep listening .