The Beatles got it wrong. One of their most popular songs tries to tell us:
All you need is love
All you need is love
All you need is love, love
Love is all you need
It’s a nice attitude but it’s not really correct. And I’m not talking from a literal interpretation where you could say that you also need air, food, water, etc. Even focusing on the emotion itself, it isn’t enough.
A great deal is said about love but there’s a broader emotion that lacks sufficient attention: empathy.
Dan Simmons, in his Hyperion Cantos talks about ‘god’ effectively making a mistake sending Jesus – or rather, Jesus was insufficient. In the series, Jesus was about love, which taught people to behave appropriately to those close to them. Love your parents. Love your siblings, love your spouse, love your children, love your neighbour.
Love only extends so far before it peters out or loses its lustre and drive.
It’s that comparison that Simmons makes in the Cantos … people can have all the love possible, but without an ability to empathise with people totally unrelated to them, they’re not going to exemplify the best possible human behaviour.
In Hyperion, a character states that after he and others went through the process of truly understanding empathy, it became nigh on impossible for them to harm others – that in doing so, they’d only be harming themselves.
While it’s sci-fi/fantasy fiction, the Hyperion Cantos certainly gets the notion of empathy right.
It seems to me humanity still struggles with empathy quite a bit. It certainly seems to be a perennial problem in Australia. Oh, there’s a bit of empathy when people suffer disasters in the country, but lets face it – for many people empathy stops at the borders of the country.
Asylum seekers of course are the perfect example of this empathetic failure within Australia. No person who can truly empathise with the plight of asylum seekers – the fear, the loss, the hardship suffered by them and their families – can possibly agree with the government abuse. Someone who can truly empathise doesn’t see a person who scrapes together every cent they have to risk life and limb on a leaky boat across the Indonesian sea as a queue jumper, they see them as someone deserving of our help.
I challenge anyone who thinks our government policies have been appropriate towards asylum seekers (or worse, not strong enough), to actually sit down and learn some empathy. It’ll be well worth the effort.
It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but it really should be:
All you need is empathy.