Sunday, October 9, 2016

A New Dream

Saturday afternoon I officiated Monica and Ben’s wedding ceremony at the River Ranch Stockyards, in Fort Worth, Texas. Here are the remarks I shared with them and their guests:

Sometimes, when I look out upon the world of today, I am struck by a seeming lack of empathy. Empathy, according to that great fount of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, is "the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another's position." Arguably, one could place many of the problems we have encountered, from the Great Recession at home to ongoing conflicts abroad, at the doorstep of an inability or incapacity to "place oneself in another's position."

No doubt social scientists are and will continue to study why this happens in a society. In the meantime, I would like to posit a hypothesis. Perhaps, one of the reasons for this is that we, in American society, in the past few decades, have placed so much emphasis on "things" and their acquisition, that material goods have displaced some of our capacity for empathy. After all, as we are discovering in social psychology, much like your internet use, human emotions have only so much bandwidth, and if that bandwidth is taken up mostly by a love of things, it might leave less room for the love that Monica and Ben's faiths command us to have for our neighbors.

This is why spending time with Monica and Ben was reassuring to me. This is not only because in our first face to face, as opposed to FaceTime meeting, Ben showed up with a t shirt from a homelessness related charity event! (I spend most of my time on homelessness related issues, so I liked that.)  No, it is because this is emblematic of the passion this couple has for social justice, a passion that is central to their relationship, and which they put into practice.

Listen to Ben: "Monica (is) passionate, smart, funny, beautiful, and has a strong sense of purpose... Monica has made me a more kind, caring, thoughtful, and aware person. (Her) passion for social justice has helped me to better understand my privileges and how I can be a more aware and [wait for it... - DSG] empathetic person..."

Monica's choice of profession was guided by this very passion. As she says, "I’m... dedicated to teaching and working towards creating a more equitable education system in America..." (Well, you don't hear that every day!) And teachers love learning, and so she says that one of the things that attracted her to Ben (aside from his rugged good looks, of course...) was "his intelligence and his love of reading and learning..." True love of learning, implies that you are willing to, nay compelled to, ask questions, and not just settle for the way things are. So, not surprisingly, Monica observes that through Ben's love for her and for learning, he, in her words, "embraced my passions and supports my desire to make the world a more just place," and this made her love him even more.

In this, these two embrace the best of what each of their faiths has to offer. It is almost a given, that some American Catholics may have a point or two they disagree with the Church on, yet happily, especially in the last few years the Church has chosen to side with the powerless to the consternation of the powerful. And not for nothing does the old joke contend, that American Jews may live like Episcopalians, but still vote like Puerto Ricans.

Perhaps it is the very fact that Monica and Ben's generation came of age, just as we brought our world economy, obsessed with things and oblivious to people, crashing down, that they are and may continue to be, kinder to people, and less concerned with things. As we rebuild that world, some fret that they seem less eager to relive what we thought to be the American Dream. I don’t. I believe they wish to fashion a more inclusive dream. That dream seeks to enfranchise rather than disenfranchise, share rather than possess, use rather than consume.

And the empathy inherent in this new dream is just the kind conducive to a successful loving marital bond. So, Monica and Ben, continue in your relationship with each other and with the world to share, "the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other being's frame of reference," and you will have it made...

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