• Ellen Fiedler

Empathy is not Endorsement

Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. It just means acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think very differently.

-Dylan Marron, host and producer of “Conversations with People Who Hate Me” podcast.

I often turn to social media for a mental break, but these days I find that scrolling through Twitter or Facebook is less of a break and more of a test of patience. My feed is overrun with quotes taken out of context, ignorant commentary on whatever the latest headline is, and heated exchanges between people of opposing political parties. Most of all, what I see in my daily scroll is anger. Much of this anger, of course, is justified. Anger towards human rights violations, religious intolerance, our current political climate...just to name a few. But, justified or not, this anger is exhausting. I'm the type of person who completely spirals every time I think someone is even a little bit upset with me (enneagram two, anyone?), and getting into arguments over anything causes my mental health to suffer significantly. So, would it be selfish of me to count myself out?

This anger towards injustice is right and necessary. In no way am I saying it isn’t. There are many people throughout and beyond my Twitter feed fighting for what they believe in, and I applaud them. I just don’t feel called to that righteous anger; rather, I feel called to love. Radical love, to be exact- the type Jesus so kindly laid out for us:

You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matt 5:43-45).

I don't look to the Bible for wisdom much these days, but this is a passage that I will always hold close to my heart.

If you know me, you know my mantra: “empathy is not endorsement.” I’m a firm believer in the fact that, when someone says or does something I don’t agree with, I can acknowledge the humanity behind their words and actions. I can recognize that there is a story there, a set of ideals instilled in them by someone or something I am not aware of. I can recognize that while I don’t agree with this person on this particular thing, we probably still have a lot in common- we might watch the same TV shows, listen to the same music, play the same games on our phones. We might have similar experiences that shaped us in very different ways, or different experiences that shaped us in very similar ways. Something we certainly have in common is that we are both human beings deserving of life, love, and compassion. We share the human experience. Does this mean I’m going to be friends with this person? Probably not- I tend to not hang around people who disagree with my core values. However, I don't have to be friends with someone to treat them with kindness.

I am aware that this is a privileged position. As I’ve written before, I know that many people, specifically those who belong to minority communities, do not feel safe engaging with people who disagree with or even hate a piece of their identity. Dylan Marron, the man whose Ted Talk I quoted at the top and linked at the bottom, speaks to this as well:

This is not a prescription for activism. I understand that some people don't feel safe talking to their detractors and others feel so marginalized that they justifiably don't feel that they have any empathy to give. I totally get that. This is just what I feel well-suited to do.

As a cisgendered, straight, white woman who has never felt marginalized in her life, this is just what I feel well-suited to do.

Fight, if that is what you are called to do. Love, if that is what you are called to do. Do both. Do neither. Do what is right.

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