The Importance of Empathy

I’m going to talk about Trump in this post.  I’m going to try to be fair, but I’m also not going to hold anything back.  If you do not like reading criticism directed at our President, you should go ahead and skip this post.  I’ll talk about something else tomorrow.

Today, I went to the emergency room because I had another kidney stone making my life miserable.  The waiting area was full of other people in discomfort, just like me.  While waiting with these other people, I tried to hide my pain.  Not because I wanted to look tough or anything like that, but because I knew that my pain was going to make other people uncomfortable.  So I sat up straight, distracted myself with my phone, and tried not to make anyone uncomfortable.

When I could, I talked with people.  I listened to them about their problems.  One kid had been injured in a car when his Mom had taken a turn too sharp.  I listened to her, and I tried to comfort her.  Another man was in there with chest pains due to a combination of heart disease and diabetes.  I could tell from listening to him that he wanted to talk to someone about these problems, and he wanted to give advice on how to deal with pain.  I listened to him, and it did make him feel better.

There are three parts to empathy.  The first part, the most important part, is caring about other people.  The second part is reading people, both in their speech and in their body language, to gather clues as to how they feel.  The third part is imagining what the other person is going through.  Putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.

That brings us to Trump.

I don’t honestly believe Trump is capable of empathy, because I don’t believe he’s good at caring about other people.  He cares about himself.  I believe he cares about his kids.  Beyond that, he continuously demonstrates a lack of compassion for other people, both in his actions and in his speech.

The most recent example is his attempt at consoling a grieving widow when her husband was killed in the line of duty.  He left her feeling worse.  It would have been better if he hadn’t called at all.

General Kelly gave an impassioned speech today, defending Trump’s words, but there was little substance to it.  He confirmed that Trump used the words “He knew what he signed up for” while at the same time, providing words that Trump should have used.

Consider the words Trump chose.  Consider who they were being aimed at.  Imagine for just a moment that the love of your life has just died.  How much will those words comfort you?

I think Trump meant them, and I think he was trying to comfort himself.  There’s some part of him that’s still human, that knows that as the Commander in Chief, he has a responsibility to the men and women that serve under him.  “He knew what he signed up for” would probably be very comforting to him.  Not so much for the widow.

Before that, he threw paper towels at people in Puerto Rico.  While they were still reeling from the hurricane, he told them, “You’re throwing our budget out of whack.” When someone in Puerto Rico demonstrated a water treatment pill, he said, “and you drink that?  I could never drink that.”

He’s disconnected.  Demonstrably, horrifically disconnected from other people, and incapable of empathy.

I think it’s worse even than what I’ve painted so far.  He uses the phrase “a lot of people didn’t know” quite a bit, when talking about things that most people know.  I think that whenever he says “a lot of people,” he actually just means himself.  He thinks he’s talking about other people, and he thinks he cares about other people.  So when he cares for himself and says things that would comfort him, he thinks he’s comforting other people.

He says that his tax plan is going to help a lot of people, but it’s really only going to help the top 1%, himself included.  He says that his executive order designed to spike ObamaCare is going to help a lot of people, but really it’s only going to help him say that he fulfilled his campaign promise to repeal and replace, when it did neither of those things and will drive up premiums and hurt 20 million people.

Empathy is important.  It helps us get along with each other.  When we can appreciate what other people are feeling, we can connect with them in ways that are beneficial to everyone.  We can make better deals.  We can mend bridges and work together towards common goals.

How much longer can this country go on with a leader incapable of such an important quality?

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