Bigotry is being legitimized in my country and the Race Discrimination Act is under attack and change is forecast. Fear and anxiety stocks are growing and returning to the currency of politicians, with their words and actions stoking the fire of division. (Check out Waleed Aly’s article for a background briefing.)
At the heart of this fear is a lack of empathy, an inability to walk in the shoes of another. I have always felt empathy was best defined in Harper Lee’s classic to Kill a Mockingbird.
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
So what is it that gets in the way of empathy being realised? Fear, anxiety and greed lies at the bottom of the lack of empathy barrel and these slops have the potential to take hold in the soul of a nation and there are plenty of examples in human history where this has taken place. When these times come I look for and long for songs, satire and stories that will be antidotes to this lack of empathy; but even more than that, will take us to new places of empathy.
The wonderful Shaun Micallef’s humour is one of the empathy potions we all can use a dose of and I am grateful for his talent to uncover some of this madness. Being able to laugh has actually been shown to support the growing of trust and social well-being and being able to laugh together (and sing together) lifts us all up – so even if I am in my living room having a laugh-a-long with Shaun, I know I am doing it with others across the nation.
I have delved deeper into laughter and discovered this week it’s links to breathing, giving us a little rest from our usual breathing and helping us grab air in another way. I know that sometimes my laughs are loud and soft, an occasional snort and maybe accompanied by some percussive hand slapping on my body and even on others. Laughter is music and has contagion properties and can spread like an infection where the music becomes a chorus. What joy that brings when a room is full of laughter, breathing in new possibilities, emptying egos, and building a common bond.
It empties the air deep in the cavities of our lungs, allowing heart rate and blood pressure to drop, the muscles of fight/ flight exertion to go limp, and our psyche to fall into a calm state. Born to be Good Dacher Keltner
So Biddy, I want more laughter, more places where people can laugh together and more opportunities for laughter to be used as the antidote to the lack of empathy in our world. I want to laugh more at myself and bring more laughter to the activism. To have fun and use that bond of humour to not only lift our spirits and build our laughter quotient as a nation to bring more peace and justice. I think it is so well exemplified in the body and spirit of the Dalai Lama who as a man in exile and essentially stateless roams the world as a pilgrim with a smile on his face. I get excited when I see Pope Francis having a laugh and offering a joke as he goes about his mission too. (The contrast with the long face of Cardinal Pell this week points out the bleeding obvious to me; surely a man in need of my prayers to find empathy as it is clearly eluding him and I am hope for his sake that some of Francis might rub off on him in Rome.) Francis said last year that if the gospel is good news then the priests preaching should look like they are giving good news instead of looking so miserable!
I say laughter is good medicine and let’s all take regular doses so we bring more empathy to our world.