Empathy - Humanity's Greatest Lost Art

03/06/2017 11:08 am ET Updated Mar 08, 2017
http://www.jacerivers.com

Millennials make up the most diverse demographic ever in American history.

From ethnic background to career choice and lifestyle — there’s never been a generation like us. Yet, we still live in a world and time defined by what divides us.

There are competing points of view on just about everything. From how we should talk, what religion we should practice, what music we should listen to, what we should eat to how we perceive the value of things, there’s always one side versus another. And most times it’s relatively easy to pick a side — you just go along with whichever resonates better based on your personal experiences. This same logic can be applied to the founding principles of this country.

Since the founding of the United States of America, there have been competing views on how our constitution should be interpreted. Like most arguments it’s one largely supported by values based on personal experience. The two competing theories are Originalism vs. Living Constitution.

Originalists believe that the constitution should retain the meaning that the authors, otherwise known as “Founding Fathers” intended. This view states that interpretation of the constitution should be based on how the authors of the constitution intended it in 1787. The contrasting view is the Living Constitution theory whose supporters believe that the “Founding Fathers” lived in a very specific time with specific values based on their personal experiences. Therefore, the constitution today should be analyzed as a living-breathing document. This view allows for the constitution and the laws created as a result to be analyzed with a more modern perspective of today’s value set, so that the effect of the constitution aligns more closely with the advances in our current society. While you and I can argue on which theory best serves our society, these debates in constitutional analysis seep into a more widespread and commonly known dichotomy: Us vs. Them.

American culture has a similar on-going debate based on personal experience between people who don’t want things to change vs. people who think things should be ever changing. Those that don’t want what it means to be an American to change believe that the ethnic demographic, class structure, and work culture of our country should remain as it was when each had certain characteristics overwhelmingly accepted by the majority. Those that think what it means to be an American is ever-changing believe that America is simply a body of land that symbolizes opportunity and freedom and that the make up of our country has a “living-breathing” existence. I’m a part of the group that believes America, like the rest of the world, is ever changing and that embracing the nuances in us all makes for a more fortified existence.

The magic to positively change the world happens when we stretch beyond the scope of our own personal experiences to work with someone with a different experience than our own. Empathy is humanity’s most precious asset but also its greatest lost art. Our ability to empathize with anyone in the world is contingent upon our level of exposure to their experiences. We can’t relate to what we’re not exposed to. We can’t aspire to what we’re not exposed to. What we’re exposed to shapes our perspective and in order to expand or change that perspective, we must expand the scope of our experiences.

Recognizing this blatant truth, I decided to embark on a yearlong travel and cultural journey to uncover what connects us all. It’s an explorative journey as well as significant social experiment to eliminate the “versus” mentality that exists in all of us and increase the level of empathy we exercise daily. I am utilizing a remote work program to facilitate my travel.

Beginning this month, I will go to 12 different cities in 10 different countries over the course of the year. I will spend one month in each city. As a first-time traveler to each country, I will be placing a lens on the experience and publishing it in the form of a docuseries, that way we all have the opportunity to grow together as it’s happening. I’m calling my journey Extended Family because for most of us family is the group of people that we’re more willing to give the benefit of the doubt. Even at a family reunion when you may not know someone, as soon as a relative introduces that person as such and such’s uncle or your cousin by way of a, b, or c, you immediately treat them with a different warmth; an increased level of respect.

The depth of our empathy is strengthened and tested when dealing with family. And that’s how we should practice treating strangers we meet on a day-to-day basis, like extended family.

To become part of the Extended Family, join the journey with me on Instagram @bcamboss.

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