America's Strength – Empathy and Heart

Posted on Thursday, August 5, 2021
by AMAC, Robert B. Charles

Careless, carefree, careworn. Interesting words that miss the point. Studies, polls, posts, news, and social interactions reveal something amiss, more than politics. We tilt away, not toward. We accuse faster than excuse, fault rather than forgive. Historically, faith, family, and local connections bound Americans together.

Empathy was our hallmark, our strength. Today, we fray and need restoring.

Studies note American empathy in decline, but something else is happening.

Individually and as a nation, we seem to be hardening our hearts. Most of us feel it, even if we resist it. The sense is that we are devolving into bubbles, littler modular versions of America – just the version we want to inhabit – not that big, beautiful, diverse, historic, risky, idealistic America of our past.

That all-in, everyone-counts, give-and-forgive, get-up-and-get-on-with-it America makes some uncomfortable because open-heartedness makes us vulnerable. Outside the bubble, we get challenged, forced to defend, not sure we can hold our own, not sure anyone wants to hear our views, not sure anyone appreciates what we appreciate, and – in the end – not sure of ourselves.

The comeback, “Of course, I am sure of myself,” followed by why others are wrong, confirms the power of the bubble. That is the problem; we empathize within our bubble, not beyond it.

Yet America has always been that powerful force of heart, unwilling to be defeated, transcending difference, able to reach up and out, unlike any other nation – because that is who we are, idealists who reach out, invite others in, recognizing their value, causing them to recognize ours.

You will, about now, say something like, “Nice words, but not tracking history.” Only, if you will look over one shoulder with me, I am. Listen to our founders, leaders of all kinds, those who have come, who have written about us, who have marveled at America’s promise.

From Lafayette and de Tocqueville to Emerson, Lincoln, Truman, and MLK, America has been a place of engagement and elan, courage and resilience, audacity to dream, tenacity to work, ability to pull from the fire what others thought lost – when we resolve to do so.

Wrote Marquis de Lafayette, “The good fortune of America is closely tied to the good fortune of all humanity,” and “pride of my heart, to have been one of the earliest adopted sons of America.”

Wrote Alex de Tocqueville, “America is great because she is good,” and “the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but in being able to repair her faults.” Ralph Waldo Emerson: “America is another name for opportunity, our whole history appears like a last effort of divine providence on behalf of the human race.”

Abraham Lincoln pulled us to our height: “This nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Harry Truman reminded us: “America was not built on fear, America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”

And defending the American Dream, Martin Luther King intoned: “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir … the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” adding “With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.” His belief in the dream never faltered, as he reminded us – like Lincoln – why and to what we aspire.

America enlightened the world on individual rights and equal opportunity, fighting to make these ideals real. We saved the world in two world wars, left a modest plaque “in peace for all Mankind” on the moon.

We saved ourselves and the nation’s soul in a civil war that left no American unscared. We built an economy that revolutionized science, medicine, aviation, transportation, communication, and – in a word – opportunity; we chased the future, defined it.

To freedom, democracy, and free markets, we have given everything, generous with resources and inspiration, matched only by heart wherever and whenever needed. As individuals and as a nation, we give more each year than any nation on earth, asking little.

So, now we come back to this lack, this pocket of self-absorption, this moment in our history when we seem – as occasionally happens – to be less caring and more despairing, more distracted by fear than fortified by pride, more willing to divide, disparage and complain, than to sit up straight, review who we are, and come out of the bubble.

And what does “coming out of the bubble” mean? It means daring to be strong, magnanimous without hesitation, full of faith, forgiving of neighbors, empathetic, not indifferent, educating from the heart, generous without reluctance, intrepid without intimidation, confident in who we are – individually and as a nation.

It means courage to listen, tapping into the power of patience, tackling disunity – and turning it, like a big ship under full sail, into the wind – creating unity and strength from empathy and heart. This is who we are, We Americans. We are not so much careless, carefree, or careworn – as caring. When we restore ourselves to ourselves, we will be unmatched.

Now is time.