Friday, March 19, 2010

On Empathy and Keeping an Open Mind

Last night I was listening to a portion of the 2009 Dalton Camp Lecture being aired on the CBC Radio programme, Ideas. The lecturer was Sue Gardner, the executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation. During the portion that I heard, Gardner spoke about how the internet has let us into worlds that would be impenetrable to us in another time.  In particular, the rise of blogs, chatrooms, and group websites allows us to peer into the world of individuals and groups radically unlike ourselves.  For example, Gardner spoke about surveying the blogs of conspiracy theorists. With "in person" social interaction, we tend to naturally gravitate to those with whom we agree and build relationships and networks with them.  Without relationships, it is difficult to understand the minds of hearts of those radically "other" from us and to feel empathy for them.  Typically, the chief way we overcome prejudice and build bridges of reconciliation is through deepening relationships with those with whom we find ourselves in conflict.  Garder suggests that the new online world gives us an opportunity to experience the world of those who are radically "other," those with whom we would never associate (or have the privilege even to peer into their world). Circles that were once very private are now very public and open to online viewing.  She believes that this is an opportunity for understanding and empathy.

I peruse certain very conservative Anglican blogs on a daily basis.  Sometimes I find it very depressing.  To be frank, I find much of what I read on these sites to be written with such anger and hatred toward mainstream Anglicanism (and especially toward gay and lesbian anglicans and those who support them), that I wonder why I visit them.  Is it a perverse voyeurism on my part? 

Gardner's lecture helped me to understand why I feel so compelled to make my daily visits into these strange lands; I make those visits precisely because they are lands that are strange, and shocking, and frustrating to me. It is for this reason that I must go there.  It is an ethical obligation. It is an obligation of being a citizen of both the civic polis and the commonwealth of God.  There is a sizeable community out there that is deeply angered and frustrated with the path the Anglican Church is taking.  I am not amongst them, but I need to understand them, because if I believe anything, I believe it is that the gospel of our Lord is a gospel of reconciliation.

In my own sinfulness, I would not choose to walk amongst these people. Without looking into their world, and they into mine, how are we to have any empathy and understanding of each other. It is true that we are far from experiencing a shared relationship, but perhaps our shared online presence creates a safe space in which we can watch each other from a distance and be open to the healing and reconciling power of God in Christ.


Cindy said...

Interesting thoughts. About why we "peek" at that which disturbs or troubles us, and what good it can be to see/read such things. Very intersting - thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Well said.