Oh, Humanity, Do You Demand Too Much Of Us?

It has been an emotionally exhausting weekend.

Thankfully all is well with me, my family; my closest circle of friends, and the Seahawks did win the Superbowl, but the larger collective, the community, the great mass of humanity with which we engage, took a few hits this weekend, from the sickening death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, to the aching letter of Dylan Farrow, to the snarling response of bigots to a multicultural Coca Cola ad, right down to the thousands of Tweets, Facebook posts, comments, and debates that have roiled around each one of these events.

There is clearly no one more exhausted, more truly affected, than the people intimately involved: Hoffman’s family, the Farrows and Allens; the millions of ethnic Americans sick to death of xenophobes defining our country as a place where only English-speaking white people exist. Each are, respectively, suffering horrible sorrows, deep anxieties, and tremendous rage.

Me? I’m only involved as a questioning observer, a member of the community, a woman, wife, mother, friend, and thinking/feeling human who has been stunned, saddened, angered, and left drained by the responses of so many to this list of tribulations.

It’s not just a matter of having opinions; I have opinions… plenty of them. As a writer, I often put those opinions into words that fly across the internet and garner either agreement or spittle-flying hate and denouncement. Opinions are like… well, you know how that goes.

The problem is not the opinions (well, some of them maybe); it’s the way people choose to express them, the seething, judgmental, arrogant, aggressive way in which sides are taken and lines are drawn. I have read utterances that have made me shake my head and wonder how we got so goddamned superior and all-knowing, when we became so convinced that our experiences dictate the reality of everyone else’s, and why we think it appropriate to decide that compassion and empathy are “enabling” when dealing with either addicts or damaged daughters… probably even Coke drinking immigrants.

A great actor who seems to have been loved by everyone who knew him died of a heroin overdose and someone suggested I might be too “kind” in my assessment that compassion was in order. “Ass kicking” was considered a better prescription for an addicted person. Others felt it necessary to point out, with great vitriol, that Hoffman was an “absolute douche… a piece of shit who would rather get high than fulfill his responsibilities”…  as if orphaning his children had any part in the decision to stick a needle in his arm. The degree of judgment and disdain exhibited by far too many in response to Hoffman’s death has itself been sickening. As if humanity couldn’t find a way to deal with grief without drowning it in denigration and revulsion. Couldn’t witness the weakness of an addict without seeing it as permission to be imperious and condescending. We all have our stories, our experiences with alcoholism and drug addiction and so, yes, certainly, we are allowed to be superior, right?

Then there’s Dylan Farrow and the matter of child molestation and our view of the women – and men – involved. Holy hell. As I write this, article after article is being posted, tit for tat, for or against, pro and con, everyone deciding who should be believed and who shouldn’t. It’s almost as if the bookmakers have jumped in: Whose side are you on? Who’s winning in the court of public opinion? Should we boycott Woody Allen films or decide Dylan is a patsy whose strings are being pulled by her fire-breathing mother? Is there any way to believe a woman who came forward 20 years later to finally tell her side of the story or is she to be categorized, as some have, as a calculating, relentless pawn? Should Allen’s celebrity be a shield against the accusations or has the addled Mia Farrow sacrificed her daughter for the sake of revenge?

I don’t know, you don’t know, but do you realize we have made a parlor game out of the life and death of people we don’t even know? Yes, these are worthy topics to discuss and there are many who’ve done so with grace, empathy, and an awareness that there are truths we may never know. But far too many have done so with smug, moral certainty that they are right, angrily, judgmentally right, and these strangers they’re discussing are worthy of their disgust and moral superiority.

Are they? I have my opinions; you, no doubt, have yours. But at the end of the day, to put it bluntly, who the fuck are any of us?

As a friend of mine put it, “Being judgmental and selfish is human, being an asshole about it is a choice.” Okay, but how about this? How about choosing to be human enough to NOT be judgmental and selfish? Human enough to express opinions with civility and whatever logic you can summon up. Human enough to realize every single person you are judging is human, too. And hope that if you ever need the humanity of compassion, empathy, and non-judgment, those around you will have the humanity to extend it.

As for Coca Cola… I don’t drink the stuff but damn if I didn’t appreciate their view of the humanity that is the “real America.”

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

9/11…That Moment of Extremes

Hard to quip much today. Get all hot and bothered about the latest political reports or that slew of responses to an incendiary Blogher piece from days ago. Hard to crank up enthusiasm for the usual rounds of clicks, tweets, forwards, likes, and comments. Oh, I will; it’s such a part of the day-to-maintenance of projects – yours, mine, and others – that there’s no point in dropping every ball. But still, as I sit here, looking out at the blue sky, embarking upon my day just as I did those eleven years ago, I’m drawn back to those feelings, that sense of horror and sorrow, and it still feels raw, still so bloody sad.

Particularly when whatever solidarity and coming together we experienced those few weeks, maybe months, afterwards, appears to have slipped away, under the rug thrown over open-heartedness and compassion in lieu of continuing fear. So here we are, right back at it; right back to that pugilistic, teeth-baring, adversarial stance we let go of for a while during that time. That was the one bright, gleaming spot in a whole shit-pile of horrible. Tragedy has a way of rising us up beyond our more base instincts and I’ve always believed that place we rise to is the truer form of self. The one free from the narrower, less loving, less compassionate concerns that sweep us away the rest of the time.

Mostly I think back on that day as one in which the entire world changed. Not just us, not just them, everyone. Here, it brought us the Patriot Act, airport restrictions, smaller shampoo bottles,  metastasizing religious fundamentalism, deepening bigotry, political lies leading to war, bizarre color codes alerts, fear of men in beards, fear of women in hijabs, fear of each other, fear of…fear. And as the years have gone by and no greater attacks have happened, as the misguided war in Iraq ended, as we buried Osama bin Laden in the sea, and a new administration steered us away from cowboy posturing toward a more nuanced relationship with the world, there has been a relaxing of shoulders to some extent. As least regarding the fear of terrorism.

Now we focus on more local, more mundane, terrors: fear of gun deaths, loss of civil liberties, panic in the economy, sexism in social politics, the ramping up of conservative theocracy, and the deepening sense that while we may all be in it together, we’re so fearful of collaboration, compromise and conciliation that we’d rather push each other away, push each other into walls, push each other out the doors than find a way to coexist with any workable combination of our varying viewpoints. That’s the greatest destruction we can wreak upon each other at this point and yet…we continue.

So today I think about that day when my 8 year-old-son wondered what on earth was happening but went to school anyway and the rest of us sat around the TV for days with tears and without interruption, making calls, sending emails, talking to neighbors; sharing our horror and sadness in all the ways we could. I find myself this week compulsively watching any documentary or show about that day (The Falling Man based on Tom Junod’s incredible piece in Esquire was particularly poignant and heartbreaking), climbing inside the thoughts and emotions, as much as possible, of the people caught in those buildings and those waiting for them at home, so many, as we know, whose vigils were for naught.

That event reduced our petty concerns to their proper level of pettiness and we got BIG for a while; able to empathize and embrace our fellow man as just that: our fellow man. It was an excruciatingly horrible time that also revealed the very best of us.


I won’t even try to extrapolate any comparisons to now, to this moment in time. I won’t attempt to draw parallels or excoriate anyone for their continued embrace of fear and bigotry. I’m just remembering the day. The people. The sorrow. The falling man. The heroes. The coming together. It will never stop being a moment of extremes. And I’ll likely feel them every anniversary…

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

What the World Needs Now Is…Empathy


We humans are a competitive bunch. From time immemorial we’ve found every reason known to man to beat and bludgeon each other in the name of tribes, regions, countries, religions, even political parties and we don’t seem the least bit inclined to stop. It’s somehow burned into our DNA to set up stakes and draw lines meant to keep us separate and superior, except, of course, when imperialism raises its uppity head and pushes one group beyond the lines of another to prove “survival of the fittest.” This may have worked for the Huns, it had much to do with the assemblage now known as the United States, but when it comes to contemporary culture and the discourse between human beings currently inhabiting our planet, all this line-drawing, head-bludgeoning, chest-puffing aggrandizement is literally beating the hell out of us.

I’m not just talking about the combatants in the Middle East, tribal Africa, Communist China or drug-lorded Mexico. I’m talking about the more mundane crowd right here in our own back yards: the cable pundits, tea-partiers, neighborhood politicians, party opinion leaders, religious zealots, and Americans who seem to think some are more “real” than others.  It’s an eclectic group that’s narrowly focused, blindly competitive and deeply bereft of empathy. Which is a shame.

Empathy is defined as the capacity to recognize and share feelings that are being experienced by another person, a necessary component to the ability to feel compassion. To reach out to help others. Offer service. A shoulder. A hand up. A modicum of understanding. Compassion and empathy…they may not be the only things that there’s just too little of, but they’re surely at the top of the list.

For a moment, let’s focus on the more personal aspect of human relations, those exchanges and reactions that exist between people. One on one. The way we treat each other. The way we consider (or don’t) each other’s viewpoints. The way we fight our battles, leave our comments, debate our issues; get our points across. In our hyper-competitive society, where we are groomed from Day One to “be the best,” “knock the opponent down,” “win the prize,” “be right,” “get to the top,” often at the expense of anyone or anything in our way, the capacity for empathy is highly devalued. Boys who exhibit it are considered pussies. Girls who exude too much are relegated to girl-tracks, not tough enough to compete with the boys. Woman with empathy have lots of friends and run a hell of a PTA but don’t expect anyone to nominate them for Chairman of the Board. Men…well, men aren’t even supposed to consider empathy a part of their emotional palette much less feel it. It’s an emotion not particularly admired in these contentious times and we, as a society, are suffering for its lack.

There are those who think anyone in need of compassion or help is a freeloader, those who call a government that feels some obligation to its needy socialist, and those who think anyone who is different in any way, shape, form, color, creed, belief system or political party is simply wrong…less. Less of a “real American.” Less of a patriot. Opponents snarl, slam, insult and demean and it’s all done in the name of winning. Being right. Feeling superior.


1.     A First Lady starts a healthy eating and exercise initiative and instead of everyone getting on board because it’s simply a good idea in this obesity-burdened society, women of the opposing party impugn her and it; even going so far as to suggest that more walking has resulted in more pedestrian accidents. Damned if they’ll get behind a good idea if it’s from the other side!

2.     Instead of eschewing political differences to work together to forge an insurance bill that’s universal and protective, partisans push and shove and make up idiotic names like “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Bill” as a way to whip up fear and debase opponents. God forbid we should concern ourselves with common folk who aren’t even our responsibility.

3.     The needs of one group can’t possibly be understood by another because that would require a willingness to walk in another’s shoes, understand their plight and consider workable solutions to their problems. That’s impossible when we’re too busy closing our minds to anything except our own bias. Please see The Dream Act.

4.     Ethnic generalities and inflammatory insults are commonplace in a country where Muslim equates terrorist and bigotry and intolerance are accepted and applauded by many, some of whom claim to have the Christian God and the Marines on their side. Just ask Councilwoman Deborah Pauly from Orange County, CA.

5.     Political debates, conversations, and campaigns can’t possibly include collaboration or focus on issues, remedies, or solutions because the participants are obligated to lie, cheat and obfuscate in their effort to not just win the argument, but demean and denigrate the opponent. See too many Republicans and most Fox News talking heads.

6.     Issues such as immigration, gay marriage, and women’s rights continue to be fodder for the screaming and yelling of zealots, racists, and sexists who find it impossible to consider the point and purpose of what drives these issues and makes them important to others. See placard-carrying protestors everywhere (and don’t get me started on the Phelps family).

There are obviously many more examples but these make the point. Intolerance, bigotry, hate, fear – the summation of all these is lack of empathy. I swear, in each and every one of these cases, if the parties involved were to honestly put aside their opinions and beliefs long enough to listen and really consider the WHY behind someone else’s, there’s no telling how much peace and harmony could be found in the valley.


We may not be conditioned that way. We’re imprinted to hold our opinion, shut out our opponent, win at all costs; prove the other guy wrong. But I can hope. Because I do see change. I see Don’t Ask Don’t Tell get repealed. I see young people plant community gardens and rally in support of their neighbors. I see negative politics rejected by some. I see expanded concern for even our international partners in the fight for democracy. I see love sweet love in unexpected places. It all gives me hope.

Empathy. It’s there to be had. No, not just for some. For everyone.

Photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke 

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.