Drinking to Empathy
Two weeks ago, one of these commercials caught my attention. It started with an average white guy sitting in his living room. He starts explaining to a camera how he supports liberal politicians and social justice causes. All of the sudden, an African-American voice-over starts to challenge the white man’s resolve. The voice-over challenges the man to try a new drink: Five Hour Empathy. (Yes, it resembles the Five Hour Energy bottles.) Basically, the voice-over promises that the man in the commercial will feel empathy for his fellow man. He would feel what systematic racism is like. He would understand the plight of the poor. Gender bias would be shown to him, all he would have to do is drink.
The comedy starts when the “progressive man” decides that he doesn’t need to take the drink. The voice-over keeps challenging the man to drink the Five Hour Empathy. Excuses and reason pepper the man’s refusal to drink the empathy drink. Fear develops in the man as the voice-over insists on the man drinking the empathy drink. The commercial ends with the outright refusal to drink the empathy drink.
We are a Matthew 25 church. We have had a sermon series on what it means to be a Matthew 25 church. I think that Matthew 25 can be summed up by empathy. In order to follow the challenges of Matthew 25, empathy must be in our hearts. It is empathy that allows us to see where to act. It is empathy that acts as a call to action. If you think about it, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” is something we often picture next to the word empathy.
The problem is that we are often the person in the pseudo-commercial. We don’t want to be empathetic. We do not want to disturb our comfortable view of society. We pretend that being against injustice is enough; or saying God bless you, is enough. We judge others for where they are in society. Instead of being empathetic and Christ-like, we argue the boot strap argument. We rationalize our inactivity by using sayings such as God helps those who help themselves. We avoid empathy to avoid sharing the resources we feel we have so little of. Instead of being empathetic, we find ways to rationalize our unwillingness to help or allow others to help.
I will admit that I sometimes have a problem with empathy. I tend to want to argue and chastise someone instead of listening to a person. I am quick to judge another’s opinion as being wrong instead of being respectful of that person’s truth. I can get comfortable in my home and not want to be inconvenienced by helping others. Lastly, I do not expand my horizons by getting to know others who are in different situations to learn about their difficulties. I think I am not alone in these faults.
Now that we have the path of Matthew 25 before us, we have to decide whether to take the empathy drink or stay comfortable in our homes. We are called to action. I believe we have the ability to travel this path together and fulfill the mission to which we have been called by Christ.