These reminders of our history were fresh in my mind this week as I followed the story of Brock Turner, who I’ve aptly heard referred to as “that rapist who can also swim.” I read about his reduced prison sentence, how he attempted to justify his actions, and how his father slut shamed Brock’s victim. I was appalled to learn that Brock's father is more upset that Brock doesn’t like snacks anymore than he is by his son's ability to sexually assault a young woman without showing an ounce of remorse.
It's fruitless to compare one tragedy to another, but we can draw parallels. The sociopathic entitlement which led to slavery is the same entitlement which drove Brock to rape an unconscious woman. When we are able to see other humans as objects for our forceful manipulation, rather than people with brains and hearts and souls, we’re capable of unspeakable violence. We can inflict trauma which reverberates for generations. When we don’t see people as human, we can use them, discard them, and then act as if we are the ones being victimized when our heinous acts are brought to light.
When our primary focus is making sure we get ours, we're too busy stepping on the backs of others to walk a mile in their shoes.
Self-entitlement is dangerous because it makes us believe we’re superior to an entire group of people. When we’re entitled we feel the world owes us what we want and that we are well within our rights to take it by any means necessary.
When I began writing about empathy, I determined that the single biggest barrier to empathy is fear. That certainly does seem to be an important factor, but I’ve since come to the conclusion that a sense of entitlement is an even larger impediment. When we become consumed with what we feel we deserve or are owed, we can justify even the most despicable behaviors. When our primary focus is making sure we get ours, we're too busy stepping on the backs of others to walk a mile in their shoes.
Empathy isn't a touchy feely ideal, it's a powerful movement which can disrupt injustice. Raising a young man who values every person (women aren't the only survivors of rape) is the single greatest contribution I can make to the planet.