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Fight the globalization of indifference

| Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Here at Notre Dame, we tend to take great pride in being leaders. We are quick to point out the many ways in which we lead the country in academics, service and athletics, among other things. I, for one, am still not done bragging about that glorious 31-0 win over Michigan last year or the ranking we received over the summer as the top university in the Midwest.

But even though we consider ourselves to be a community of informed, passionate citizens who lead the world in every aspect imaginable, there are ways we could be better, as shocking as that may seem to some.

It is tempting to jump immediately to solving problems that are easily quantifiable, such as reducing the number of sexual assaults on campus or increasing financial assistance to students with substantial need. It would seem as though our efforts could have the most tangible impact on these issues. However, I argue we must first affect change in an area that is more difficult to measure: empathy.

A phrase that seems to keep coming back to me again and again is “globalization of indifference.” Pope Francis first spoke these words in 2013 when delivering a homily in Lampedusa, a small Italian island in the middle of the Mediterranean that has become a landing place for thousands of migrants fleeing poverty and oppression in Africa.

By using the phrase “globalization of indifference,” Pope Francis means to reference the many ways in which it seems we are becoming increasingly unable to empathize and show genuine concern for our fellow human beings who are suffering. He argues that while we may now know more about events and issues around the world, we also increasingly lack compassion for the people affected by them.

Some may say social media and greater access to communication around the globe has enabled us to know more about social issues and human rights violations around the world. They are correct in stating we are now able to learn more about issues in different parts of the country and world and to do so quickly.

However, knowing about an injustice someone is suffering is not the same as caring for them.  We also do not have to share someone’s experience in order to empathize with him or her.

One does not have to be a Syrian refugee forced to flee their home in the midst of war in order to recognize every person has worth and is deserving of love and compassion.

One does not have to experience sexual assault to be able to understand a person has had something taken from them that can never be returned.

One does not have to feel the entirety of humanity’s suffering to recognize the importance of every person’s life and sense of dignity.

Certainly, it is impossible to come to a full and complete understanding of the injustices our fellow human beings face without having experienced them ourselves. However, that does not mean we should stop trying to empathize and treat them as our neighbors, worthy of respect and love, instead of as faceless statistics.

As we go through our days, it is important we intentionally seek out ways to be more empathetic and cognizant of the struggles of others. After all, how are we to lead if we do not truly understand the problems? How are we to be advocates for change and a better world if we do not even try to empathize with the people whose lives are adversely affected by political, economic and social injustices?

If we are to continue to claim Notre Dame is a leading Catholic institution and a force for good in the world, we have to fulfill our duty to our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters, and recognize the common humanity in each of them. We must challenge ourselves to grow every day in empathy and caring for others. We are all responsible for recognizing the globalization of indifference and making an effort to bring it to an end.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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