Barack Obama has already been here. As long ago as 2006 too. This link comes from a Guardian article on the fascinating subject of empathy which you can find here, with RSA video to boot. The Obama excerpt first, from the former:
…There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit — the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us — the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.
As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier. There’s no community service requirement in the real world; no one forcing you to care. You’ll be free to live in neighborhoods with people who are exactly like yourself, and send your kids to the same schools, and narrow your concerns to what’s going on in your own little circle.
Not only that — we live in a culture that discourages empathy. A culture that too often tells us our principal goal in life is to be rich, thin, young, famous, safe, and entertained. A culture where those in power too often encourage these selfish impulses.
They will tell you that the Americans who sleep in the streets and beg for food got there because they’re all lazy or weak of spirit. That the inner-city children who are trapped in dilapidated schools can’t learn and won’t learn and so we should just give up on them entirely. That the innocent people being slaughtered and expelled from their homes half a world away are somebody else’s problem to take care of.
I hope you don’t listen to this. I hope you choose to broaden, and not contract, your ambit of concern. Not because you have an obligation to those who are less fortunate, although you do have that obligation. Not because you have a debt to all of those who helped you get to where you are, although you do have that debt.
It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. And because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential — and become full-grown.
Meanwhile, Kath – over at Speaker’s Chair – kind of (though not exactly) puts in a good word for Margaret Thatcher: her thesis (I think) being that the fight Thatcher’s way of seeing engendered in the rest of us has, very after the event, left a better Liverpool – indeed a better Britain – behind it:
[…] But, grudgingly and gradually, I have allowed myself to consider another point of view.
At first, this thought was a deep secret, a sacrilege never to be uttered. But I believe it to be true: Margaret Thatcher helped make Britain a better place.
When Thatcher came to power, the country had already descended into a pit of economic and industrial chaos. Trade unions leaders were guilty of militant savagery. Successive governments, Conservative and Labour, were guilty of appeasement.
It didn’t take much to set things alight , and Thatcher created one almighty blaze.
Forest fires are pitiless things. They sweep away the bad and the good. But they foster new life, new beginnings.
I find it hard to forgive Margaret Thatcher’s indifference during the 1980s; the callous way she abandoned Liverpool and its people.
But the city is a different place now. It is a better, more optimistic place than the one I grew up in; better than had Labour clung to power in 1979.
Maybe Margaret Thatcher was our mighty fire.
Mind you, as a commenter to Kath’s article also points out, we can agree the country needed change without agreeing the change it needed was Thatcher.
If, in times of crisis, I was to ask for a transformative leader, a leader capable of catalysing huge movements, the kind of leader who might crystallise a moment in history and make it clear for the rest of us so we could understand it, and then productively work alongside it, then I would far rather the Obama approach of attempting to make good an empathy deficit one has with one’s fellow men, women and children than the declamatory gymnastics of Margaret Thatcher’s politics from that terribly cruel 1980s. To argue that the 1970s had become a time of appeasement, and that as a result we needed a fire to rise from phoenix-like, is to gloss over just a little the terrible consequences of some people getting burned. Especially when such a conflagration might not have been necessary in the first place, if only we’d had a bit of that empathy Senator Obama refers to.
Talking of which, we then have the comparisons drawn between the Iron Lady and our much-beloved Winston Churchill to deal with in this legacy. I’m sure there are many. I prefer, however, to focus on a substantive difference. Churchill fought a war to win a peace in desperate circumstances. And in the event, once this goal was achieved, the country wished to move on and elect quite a different Prime Minister.
In Margaret Thatcher’s case, the relationship she had with the war fought under her premiership was far more complex. And, even where not intentioned, it helped redeem her figure in the light of a country who would vote for her again as a result.
Thatcher inspired the people perhaps in much the same way as Churchill. But the circumstances and consequences were very different. I’m not sure that Churchill could have possibly lacked empathy to the degree that Thatcher clearly did. Those wartime speeches of his resonate of a vast understanding of the suffering of quite ordinary people. I cannot remember a single thing that Thatcher said of the civil war she imposed on her own people which indicates even slightly her comprehension of the suffering whole communities were exposed to – or, even, what that suffering actually meant in human terms.
Thus it is that whilst both the above-mentioned were products of their time, even as Obama is a complicated product of his, the empathy deficit the latter has rightly highlighted was very much more part and parcel of Thatcher’s reign than anyone else’s.
She resolutely didn’t need to be liked. She revelled in not being cared for.
That’s the difference between people who are able to put themselves in the shoes of others and those who find it impossible – in fact, quite unnecessary.
I prefer for those who are to lead my country to be the former and not the latter.
The latter, let it be said, may serve to win wars – but the peace they leave behind them is destruction squared.
Entropy is what we need now: that is to say, a calculable transformation. The possibility of winning a peace without the weapons of war.
The possibility of finally moving on from everything that has come before.