Empathy is a part of reason. Reason alone will leave us with only a selfish or an unloving product. You see reason to put it in theological language is in a fallen state. Or to put it in a philosophical way reason is limited. We are limited in our capacity to reason by experience, education, and mental capacities. We are dearth of God’s capacity to know and therefore our capacity to reason is limited.
As a parent I have tried to teach my children at least two things. The first is listening makes you smart. If you cannot hear the other you will never receive what they have to offer and how you are being received by others. The art of listening is a skill set that makes your life less complicated and leads to being smarter than others in the room. You do understand their point of view and in this understanding you can craft your argument to them or revise your thinking in lieu of what they are saying. If you are thinking of what you are saying while the other is speaking you may talk right by them. If you cannot listen to the professor, supervisor, friend, therapist, lover, or even your enemy you will be less intelligent. You will be trapped in only that which you can know and not receive from others that which they know.
The other thing I try to instill in my children is that knowledge of the head must be in agreement with the knowledge of the heart. The two ways of knowing should not be exclusive. Most of us agree with this. For example, in the good touch bad touch programs, an emphasis is put on how does it make you feel. Even though it may feel rational to a young intimidated child to allow your family member to touch you we teach if it feels, it is wrong. This is the use of reason and heart to achieve the right thinking. It may feel rationally okay to cut food stamps from folks but most people would cringe at the thought of anyone going hungry. The right will tell you this is a weakness but in reality this is full knowledge not weakness
Blaise Pascal once said ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing’. This means that logic of the head needs to be supplemented with intuition and love. Reason is not the only way of knowing. You see logic is only half of the puzzle. The truth is logic is flawed. It can be biased by our class, culture, race, sex, and sexual orientation. This means that we will always need a system of thinking that has checks and balances to our logic. Listening is one of the checks and balances. If we have not truly heard the other side of the argument we speak without knowing the full picture. Another balance is empathy. If we cannot put ourselves in the other’s place we will not be able to understand the wheres and whys of how they think. This is what is meant by they have ears to hear and eyes to see but they do not understand. And more importantly if we do not have empathy with our reason we are capable of justifying anything in the end. This is what happened in the eugenics movement. It made sense on one level but the decision to sterilize, euthanize, or genocide was made without a balance of listening to others and an attuned empathy.
So knowledge not only requires facts and opinion it must be balanced out with listening and empathy. In today’s discourse we have half-truths presented as the whole truth. We have people who will say with pious tones, as if that added to their rightness pronouncements, of what others should do. Take the immigration debate over DACA. There is no denying that immigration laws have been broken. So we have the pious right proclaim that the law must be upheld. So they have a fact and they will take that fact and beat it to death. They do not want to hear that for all practical purposes the DACA persons are American. They have never known any other country as home or have any place else to go. They have broken the law. They do not want to take into account that the law was not intentionally broken by them. They have broken the law. They do not want to hear stories of families being broken up. This is emotional hijacking of the debate they say. They have broken the law.
This is why you have trouble talking to the far right on this issue. They do not listen because they are convinced they know the truth. And to their way of thinking empathy or love are not allowed to be factored in. So to be quite frank about it, If you do not listen and if you do not balance reason with love you are unreasonable. Reason cannot reach you. You have a smidgen of the truth and you use this iota of information to form your opinion.
And that is where we are at today. Unreasonableness rules the day. We can only hope that one day empathy and listening will return and make us all a little more reasonable.