This started out as a post on Facebook, but I’m going to try to expand on it and see what happens…
If we spent more time seeing people as people rather than as the labels we put on them, then a path to real empathy and understanding shows itself. The problem with labels is that we all wear more than one. Yet, when we see a label on someone that we do not agree with, that is the label we give them. Never mind the other labels one might wear that we would approve of or wear ourselves. It is the label that promotes some kind of disagreement or conflict that we freely choose to accept as the one that most aptly describes or define the individual.
Surely we are smarter and more compassionate than that. Surely we all have the ability to see people for who they are rather that what they are. Why would we willingly take such an ability and simplify it? Does it make life easier? Does it help us sleep better at night? Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?
I’m going to address the last question first and see if they will help answer the other three.
Does it bring us closer to our faith, regardless of what that faith may be?
I’m going to place a label on myself just to show how I view the answer I have for this question. I identify as a Christian, and the answer that follows is according to my understanding of Christian faith.
By simplifying an individual that we may not agree with to the label with which we disagree, faith eludes us. We are not told to love the neighbor with whom we most identify. We are told to love our neighbor. It does not matter who that neighbor is. It does not matter what that neighbor does. It does not matter what we think of that neighbor.
One of the most important aspects of love is empathy. In order to love someone, empathy, and the practice of empathy, within the relationship is absolutely paramount. With empathy, one must understand or want to understand the object of their love. With empathy, there may not always be agreement, but there is always an attempt to understand. Without empathy, one cannot find the commonalities one might have with another in order to build a meaningful relationship. Without empathy, it is easier to cast judgment on those with whom we disagree, paste a label on them, and toss their basic humanity aside. Without empathy, we fail to see the person behind the label. We fail to see the person’s wants. We fail to see their needs. We fail to understand them as people, and choose to see them as enemies, if even in the loosest sense of the word. Without empathy, there cannot be trust. Without trust, there cannot be love.
Empathy takes a lot of practice. It can be difficult, but isn’t that the point? Are we not supposed to practice our respective faiths? Are we not supposed to work in order to build a stronger character and make our faiths stronger?
We have an ability to understand. We have an ability to empathize. Some say it is God given. Some say it is an evolution of the mind. Some say it is a combination of the two.
We can also practice apathy. We can choose not to care. We can choose not to understand. In essence, we can choose not to love. Apathy takes no practice, builds no character, and is a weak foundation upon which to build faith.
Which brings us closer to our faith? Which makes life easier? Which helps us sleep better at night? For me, a better understanding makes me more comfortable and helps me trust that I will be okay. That trust helps me sleep at night. That understanding makes my life just a little bit easier.
There is a debate, has been for a long time. Does faith alone provide for salvation, or are good works necessary? Faith, in and of itself, requires work. Faith requires practice, because we, in and of ourselves, will never be perfect. Through practice, we can come closer to perfection, but cannot attain it but through the continued practice of love and of faith.