Guest post by Francisco Dao. Follow him on Twitter @TheMan.
My rich friends are good people. They work hard, give generously to charity and invest their money in the ideas of entrepreneurs. They are in the 1% and their work creates jobs and fuels innovation. Surely they are not to blame for the problems that we face.
My friends who are less than financially secure are also good people. They work hard to provide for their families and make a better life for their children. They are in the 99% and their work forms the backbone of America. Surely they are not to blame for the problems that we face.
And yet here we stand – a nation at the brink – each accusing the other for the ills that befall us. How did we get here? Could one group be right and the other is simply evil? If so, then which group? For I know many in both circles and I see malice in none. Perhaps I am blind. Or perhaps we have become so disconnected from one another that the absence of malice in our hearts is surpassed by the absence of empathy.
Most of us believe that people can be categorized as good or evil but the truth is we are an amalgam of both. Our founding fathers created a land of freedom while they owned slaves. Our enemies plot our downfall while they care for their mothers and children. There is neither absolute good nor absolute evil. We are both and neither. And while it may be difficult to admit it to ourselves, who we are and what we do are largely a matter of circumstance.
As the right and left have pulled us apart, Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street, weʼve been conditioned to view the other side as less. It starts as less industrious or less moral, but soon it becomes less worthy, less valuable and finally less human. When this happens it becomes far too easy to subjugate each other as a matter of “right.” Like the pigs in Animal Farm we become indistinguishable from the oppressors that we despise.
I am no Pollyanna and the Bernie Madoffʼs and Octomomʼs who take advantage of the system on both ends of the spectrum deserve no favor. But itʼs time to end this categorization that now strips us of our empathy. No more blaming the rich. No more blaming the poor. No more blaming anyone by any other label. For when all of these labels are washed away we are just people. People who share dreams and values that are far more similar than weʼve been led to believe. Itʼs time to look at the faces of those weʼve blamed for Americaʼs woes and see them for who they are: mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and children. We are they and they are us. I fear we have already lost our empathy and if we donʼt find a way, we may find ourselves a nation stripped of our humanity.
Please share your thoughts. Where are we and where are we going?
Francisco Dao is the founder of 50Kings, a private community for technology and media innovators. He is a former leadership columnist for Inc.com, a lifelong entrepreneur, author and former stand-up comic.