I’ve been thinking about empathy today, and how it relates to the Force.
(In case you had any doubts about how much of a geek I am, let them be banished henceforth).
Yoda and the Emperor talk about how the Dark Side is a constant temptation, something that is there, and I always found that a little bit hard to believe. The right thing to do is usually pretty clear, and while I can get angry like anyone else, or fearful, those things don’t necessarily lead to me cutting people in half with a light saber.
But today, in light of current events, I was thinking about empathy, and how empathy is really the force that binds people together or tears them apart. Empathy is that human capacity to see things from another’s point of view and maybe not agree with it, but at least understand it better, and to–often but not ALWAYS–sympathize with it.
Sympathy with evil acts is to be discouraged, though. We don’t believe in sympathizing with murderers and terrorists. To do so is considered morally wrong, but I won’t get into the details of that. Hence, empathizing with those who have acted horrifically, is considered reprehensible also, but to a less overtly stated degree.
The temptation is ever there to give up empathy. Hatred and fear lead to a loss of empathy, to other-izing those we have scorn for. Stripping them, in essence, of their perceived humanity.
The temptation is there because it’s easier to compartmentalize our horror at their actions if we consider them unlike ourselves. Few want to believe that the capacity for evil exists within all of us, and can be brought out under the right circumstances. Far easier, I think, to think they are fundamentally flawed, to act that way.
I believe the capacity for murder exists in all of us. The idea itself to me seems like a relatively modern moral construct anyway, in some senses. I mean, someone felt the need to write it down as a rule at one point in Judeo Christian tradition, so that makes me thing we haven’t always been too clear on the moral wrongness of it.
To really brutalize others, we must abandon our empathy for them, at least temporarily. And there is always that temptation, in the wake of brutality, to abandon empathy and replace it instead with a desire for vengeance
The harder path, the less natural one, is to forgo vengeance . To maintain empathy, while withholding sympathy. Seek reason and meaning in the act, while still condemning.
I heard someone arguing on the radio the other day that vengeance is natural, and that our denial of it is wrong. They argued that the preciseness of law in “eye for an eye” is actually there to prevent disproportionate vengeance. An eye for an eye and no more, they said. Which I found fascinating, even if I’m not sure I agree with the entire premise.
Ultimately, today, I understand a little better now why the fictional Jedi have such a hard line to walk, as I struggle with my feelings and reactions, the balance between a desire to maintain my empathy for humans, and my desire to discard it, to harden myself, to ignore the dark voice inside.