I want very badly to challenge the ease with which we succumb to the false divide of labels, that moment in which our empathy gives out and we refuse to respond openhandedly or even curiously to people with whom we differ. As I see it, to refuse the possibility of finding another person interesting, complex and as complicated as oneself is a form of violence. At bottom, this is a refusal of nuance, and I wish to posit that nuance is sacred. To call it sacred is to value it so much and esteem it so highly that we find it fitting to somehow set it apart as something to which we’re forever committed. Nuance refuses to envision others degradingly, denying them the content of their own experience, and talks us down tenderly from the false ledges we’ve put ourselves on. When we take it on as a sacred obligation, nuance also delivers us out of the deadly habit of cutting people out of our own imaginations. This opens us up to the possibility of at least occasionally finding one another beautiful, the possibility of communion.
― David Dark, Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious
Going easy on ourselves also reflects a key cognitive fact: we judge ourselves by our internal motives and everyone else by their external actions. And thus, in considering our own misdeeds, we have more access to mitigating situational information. This is straight out of Us/Them–when Thems do something wrong, it’s because they’re simply rotten; when Us-es do it, it’s because of an extenuating circumstance and “Me” is the most focal Us there is, coming with the most insight into internal state. Thus, on this cognitive level, there is no inconsistency or hypocrisy and we might readily perceive a wrong to be mitigated by internal motives in the case of anyone’s misdeeds. It’s just easier to know those motives when we are the perpetrator.
The adverse consequences of this are wide and deep. Moreover, the pull towards judging yourself less harshly than others easily resists the rationality of deterrence. As Ariely writes in his book, “Overall, cheating is not limited by risk; it is limited by our ability to rationalize the cheating to ourselves”.
―Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst
Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.
―Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Everyone carries an atmosphere about him. It may be healthful and invigorating, or it may be unwholesome and depressing. It may make a little spot of the world a sweeter, better, safer place to live in; or it may make it harder for those to live worthily and beautifully who dwell within its circle.
Compassion- which means, literally, “to suffer with”- is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves, not when we differ from others, but when we are the same. Indeed the main spiritual question is not, “What difference do you make?” but “What do you have in common?” It is not “excelling” but “serving” that makes us most human. It is not proving ourselves to be better than others but confessing to be just like others that is the way to healing and reconciliation.
Today you go into make a modern recording with all this technology. The bass plays first, then the drums come in later, then they track the trumpet and the singer comes in and they ship the tape somewhere. Well, none of the musicians have played together. You can’t play jazz music that way. In order for you to play jazz, you’ve got to listen to them. The music forces you at all times to address what other people are thinking and for you to interact with them with empathy and to deal with the process of working things out. And that’s how our music really could teach what the meaning of American democracy is.