Tuesday, July 19, 2016

What Would It Be Like? Empathy and History

I apologize for the lack of posts over the last month, but I have been quite busy on a few different fronts, both professionally and personally. One initiative at work involved spending five days with wonderful group of teachers discussing slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. Of the several places we visited on our field study day was the location of Richmond's slave trading district near Shockoe Bottom. While standing there at the former archaeological site of Robert Lumpkin's slave jail complex, a quote suddenly came to me that I remembered reading from Lincoln.

I was not certain where I had heard or read the quote, or even what the exact wording was, but it made me think about empathy. . . putting ones self in the shoes of others. When I had the opportunity I did some internet searching and found the quote. Lincoln, speaking to a group of Hoosier soldiers in March 1865, mentioned that "Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally." That statement really brought it home to me. What would it feel like to be worked from dawn to dusk with no compensation other than being provided with meager food, clothing, and shelter. What would it feel like to be separated from one's family while being rented to someone else for no personal gain? What would it feel like to be subjected to inspection just before being bid up to the highest offer? What would it feel like to have no rights, to not be allowed to read, to have no legal recourse when persecuted?

Today I feel that our country is suffering from a serious lack of perspective. We seem to not be able to empathize with those whose thinking may be different from our own. I appreciate that studying history has increased my thinking ability and has added to the value of seeing other people's view; all things that were instilled in me from a young age by parental example.