America's Empathy Gap

In order to combat the many troubles we are currently facing, America has to combat its empathy hole.

America's Empathy Gap
Photo Credit: JAE C. HONG / Associated Press

Right now in El Paso, Texas, their hospitals are so overrun due to the surge of COVID-19 cases, that they have brought in ten mobile morgues because of the overflow of dead bodies due to the virus. Does this sound like an instance of déjà vu? It should because back in April, New York had to make up to 45 of them because funeral homes couldn’t handle the number of bodies that were coming in. In April. Now, on the precipice of the holiday season, we are within a third surge of COVID-19, the deadliest yet. Despite the many calls to scale back Thanksgiving celebrations, some will travel and go to that hometown bar to hang out and recall the same old stories. Meanwhile, there will be a husband and wife who will be saying goodbye to a spouse through FaceTime because they can’t risk getting sick from the virus. If we don’t curb behaviors to scale back the 1 million caseload in six days, then come Christmas time, there is going to be a lot of slow singing and flower bringing.

When we look back on this time period, we will still be tending to scars of self-inflicted wounds of America’s cannibalistic nature to anything empathetic. It’s not like we didn’t know that the fall surge of cases wasn’t coming. It’s just science. Colder temperatures lead to more indoor gatherings, thus more chances to transmit COVID-19. While our hospitals are bursting at the seams, we greet finished shifts with applause and a chorus of pots and pans. We don’t honor our essential heroes with changed behaviors so that they can meet their daily lives with some semblance of normal.

But America’s pandemic response hints at a bigger issue. This country has an empathy gap and a problem rooted in individualism. There has been discussion around President-Elect Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan which would change many lives for the better and lift the overall economy. Some people have met it with a healthy amount of disdain. “Well, what about my loans? I had to pay mine off. Why can’t they pay?” It reminds me of the debate about the temporary $600 enhanced unemployment benefits. For the first time, some families were actually able to have a living wage. Some of that was met with calls of “why do they get paid so much to stay home while I work for pennies?”

Congress has all but dissolved a much-needed stimulus plan to get state governments and citizens the stimulus that they have needed for months. As a result, small businesses close and people lose their livelihoods, but unfortunately, that has fallen on deaf ears of people who were elected to serve and not rule over.

See, the not-so-dirty secret in American society is that we don’t want to level the playing field because then that would shatter our collective superiority complex. As long as there is somebody underneath us, we can feel better about our situation and self-worth. That’s why the collective fight is not for livable wages and increased standards of living. It’s a tug-o-war of survival and “you should struggle as I did.” Somehow, we take more people who get a piece of land onto the mountain as a slight to our personal creed.

So, no, I’m not surprised that we’ve ignored the cries and dejected pleas of doctors and nurses around the country for us to take this seriously - again. We can’t even get all the states to agree on a consensus amount of actions to take. Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand."  Right now, America is separated into those who believe science, fact, and the simple requests of those who wear masks and those who don’t even leave a good tip for their waiter who has a higher chance of contracting the virus.  Yes, there is virus fatigue. That is understandable in an unprecedented year. The reason for the prolonging and now a wildfire-like spread of disease and inequality is because we refuse to look at the enemy in the mirror.

2020 has been a cabal of unrealized truths and realizations. America’s love affair with and unchecked patriotism has given the illusion that nature is something we can make bow to our will.  It’s literally killing us. Déjà vu is our only point of reference because we feel that revisiting the mistakes of yesterday is punishment to the underprivileged.