Joe Brewer -
Joe Brewer talks about how empathy is
the foundation of progressive values.
When we talk about
progressive values, we are really talking about is how we care and why we
care. So I think the most important progressive value is empathy. By
empathy I mean that we feel a strong connection with other people, and we
put themselves in our shoes. And when we do that, we feel
responsibility to help end their suffering.
So when people are treated
unfairly, like with inequality ,we have a responsibility to do what we can
collectively in our community to care for those people and provide for them,
to be sure that they are given the opportunities that everyone deserves.
So I think when weíre talking about progressive values, weíre really talking
about empathy and responsibility.
Now we extend that and say
ďWhat happens when I care about someone else, and I want them to have some
kind of well-beingĒ. What is going to be entailed in that? Those
values include fulfillment, and if you care about someone else and put
yourself in their shoes, then youíre going to want them to have the same
opportunities and pursue their dreams as you have. So, youíre going to
think about their fulfillment.
And your also going to think
about basic levels of material wealth, which means moving into prosperity.
Because people who donít have the basic things they need to take care of
themselves are going to suffer, and they are not going to seek their dreams.
And all that is really about
freedom, which is another important value. Each person needs to have
freedom guaranteed to them, with opportunities to be able to pursue their
dreams and goals. As long as those freedoms they express donít
impinging on the freedoms of others.
And a corollary of that is
that you need to have another kind of freedom, freedom from harm.
Freedom from people restricting upon or infringing upon your freedoms.
So we have to work together as a community to guarantee those things.
Now if we start extending
those things out on a community level, then weíre going to get to other kind
of values. They donít sound like normal values Ė values like the common
good, the common wealth. We invest in collectively what we each
individually canít afford, so have to provide together.
Things like education, public
infrastructure, highways, funding of scientific research and medicine.
The things that no one can provide for themselves, that are extensions of
basic levels of progressive values. So, when we start talking about
progressive values, thereís a lot we can say.
Edwin: The first thing
you mentioned was empathy. Can you talk about your own personal
experience, how you developed that value?
Answer: Well, I look at
it from a perspective of what psychology teaches us. My experience Ė I
grew up in a small town in Missouri, in a place where there was a lot of
poverty, and most people fell pretty much trapped where they were. So
I was immersed in a living condition of feeling trapped.
What I felt when I was around
other people in that condition was I felt the same lack of opportunity they
felt, and I resonated Ė their suffering became my suffering, because I saw
in them the hardships that I experienced.
So when I talk about empathy,
I talk about it at a really concrete level with the people around you.
Itís the people I interact with directly on a daily basis. When Iím
around other people, as I get to know them, I care about them. I want
them to do well. Theyíre my friends. Theyíre my family.
And so, when I look at their
condition, I see that itís just an extension of my condition. So, to
put that in concrete terms, itís that when someone canít find work, they
work really hard and canít find work that pays their living, and unable to
get health care, I look at my own situation and see similarities.
The trick is to look into the
other to see yourself in them and them in you. So when Iím talking
about empathy, Iím really talking about the connection with other people.
Edwin: Iím also looking
for actual stories, some memory or story Ö
Answer: Yeah, there are
other kinds of empathy besides empathy for other people. Iím a strong
environmentalist, and I know that the experience that Iíve had, like today
picking up trash, is like the experience Iíve had living in squalor.
And one example of living in squalor that resonates in me Ė like a few years
ago I visited India and visited old Delphi, a place which has concrete
streets and mud-filled streets. And as walked down those streets, I
would smell the refuse and garbage. People would use the streets as a
bathroom Ė there were no public bathrooms and public trashcans.
So, as I would walk along the
street, I would be surrounded by garbage and human refuse. And so the
experience I had was of people not caring for their surroundings. And
that was a place where I felt empathy for the broader world in two ways.
One, I felt the sickness we are putting on the world by having garbage lying
all around. Then I felt the sickness of our communities that depend on
a healthy environment in order to survive and be healthy ourselves. So
I felt a deep sense of connection with the broader world when I was
surrounded by that squalor.