Empathy.

As a teacher, one of the most important things I try to convey to my students is the importance of empathy. Being able to see from another’s perspective, to imagine another’s pain, not only demonstrates a deep comprehension of the material at hand, but also provides the key to being a decent human being: the ability to view other people as people.

The comments on the previous post are closed, because people lack empathy–especially people on the Internet. And so many people who lack empathy lack empathy because they were never forced to develop it due to the privilege they have always enjoyed and never examined. It is so incredibly easy to remain uncritical of power structures when those power structures have always worked for you, when your life has been relatively insulated and safe (and, yes, everyone’s life has hardships, so don’t come to me with your white tears–your race and class, at minumum, privilege is still so much greater than a huge amount of the residents of this city).

But it’s so easy for people to cry “social justice warrior” and ignore what all of this is built upon: empathy. I’m a pretty privileged person, but I think a major difference between people who have been agreeing with me and people who don’t is that those who agree work on a day to day basis with people in communities like those who were affected by Bok’s shutdown: struggling in poverty, an overzealous criminal justice system, systemic racism, and myriad other issues keeping the urban poor down. The people who disagree? They work in offices, they work from home, they do not connect to communities outside of their middle-class urban bubble. Let us have nice things, the middle-class people in those neighborhoods say. When those people will probably not send their kids to public schools, or if they do they’ll be sure it’s Meredith. When those people complain about how terrible their neighborhood is, they do nothing to change it. They believe Philadelphia exists to serve them, that they are owed something.

I, and most people who agree with me, understand that the city existed before and will exist after me. I want to leave behind the best possible city for all people, which is why I am passionate about making sure that we don’t turn important public spaces dedicated to training kids for middle-class jobs into private gentrification havens to satisfy the white neighbors who blame all trash and violence on the people struggling below the poverty line but never lift a hand to lift up their fellow human.

To anyone who disagrees with me, here is a challenge: Volunteer. Do it for a month, and work with people, not filling boxes or planting trees. Meet people in your neighborhood who have built a community, who need help. Help them. Develop empathy. Then, come to me and tell me these underserved people don’t deserve everything in the world that your privileged life has handed to you, and why this so-called “community” building should be free from criticism despite a lack of concern for the actual community adjacent to it. Explain why. Then, I’ll listen.

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