Public Policy with a Dash of Empathy

Each person’s viewpoints are a product of their own experiences.  You see things through a lens that is shaded over time based on your family, your community, and the events of your life. I view the world through the eyes of a student, someone who was raised Catholic and attended public school. I read, write, and speak from the viewpoint of a twenty-one year old white female, and every experience I have had as such is linked to how I read, write, and speak.  This is not a choice.  What is a choice, however, is whether or not to try to look at things through someone else’s eyes, to attempt to feel what they feel or to imagine how they could have ended up in a certain situation.  This quality is called ‘empathy.’


Empathy, while not formally part of the National Democratic Party’s doctrine, is essential in creating public policy that we as Americans and we as Christians can be proud of.  In his book Audacity of Hope, Obama writes, "It’s hard to imagine the CEO of a company giving himself a multimillion-dollar bonus while cutting health-care coverage for his workers if he thought they were in some sense his equals," (67).  Without a doubt, the aforementioned situation epitomizes the empathy deficit in America.  Can’t said CEO imagine what it would be like for one of his employees to struggle to pay his or her medical bills? And why does the GOP support tax cuts for corporations that make millions, but not for Americans struggling to earn a living wage?


I wish that more people in Washington understood (or at least tried to understand) the feeling of grave financial uncertainty or of racial/religion/gender discrimination.  I wish more people in Washington could empathize with the challenges facing the average American. 


I am fortunate enough to have been born into a family where I never had to worry about whether not there would be food on the table or heat in the house.  When it comes to welfare and food stamps, policy does not affect me much.  But it could someday, because life is unpredictable.  I am not so naïve as to think that my life will always be easy.  Furthermore, I choose to empathize.  I can imagine catching some bad breaks, maybe an illness that prohibits a parent from working or a financial decision that backfires.  These things happen because we live in a world where fallible humans are in charge and disasters happen at random.  For this reason, I want America’s public policy to support a person who finds him or herself in need of a leg up, not kick them while they are down.


As a Christian and as an American, it’s hard to be proud laws that don’t give someone who is worst off in society the best chance of succeeding.  So let’s empathize, because to relinquish our values, specifically to remove empathy from the creation of public policy, is to do serious injustice to our fellow Americans.  And in the words of Barack Obama, "[It] would be to relinquish our best selves," (69).


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