Fear and Empathy

Male front runners, including winner Lelisa Desisa, Boston Marathon, 2013. Photo by Rick Chalmers

Male front runners, including winner Lelisa Desisa, Boston Marathon, 2013.
Photo by Rick Chalmers

It’s been two weeks since the Boston Marathon, and tonight, in Portland, the Maine Running Company is hosting the Runners for Boston 5K, “to bring the community of runners & those that want peace and solidarity together to show support for those affected in Boston on 4/15/13.” I’m looking forward to the race and to running with others who are looking for ways to express empathy in community.

I’ve been reading a lot over the last two weeks; in fact, I’ve been obsessing over the details of the Boston Marathon bombing. Among the articles I’ve read are those that question the outpouring of empathy for Boston, using the lens of race, for example, to question whether (white, privileged) Americans feel this tragedy more deeply because of the races of the victims and because of a view that the sport of marathon running is one of economic and cultural privilege. The second argument can be dismissed if one simply looks at the diversity of the sport; the first point, however, is tricky territory to negotiate, and it’s no surprise that the truth is complex. I’m left thinking that it’s essential to consider the relationship between fear and empathy. In spite of dramatic social advances, racism, sexism, and homophobia exist both overtly and in the subterranean of American culture (this offers some explanation for what seems to me to be misplaced critique). Also, I see that it might be easier to dissociate from violence to and by the Other. That said, if I look into the terrain my own heart has traveled in the last 2 weeks, it occurs to me that when fear strikes deep, it can be the genesis of a broader empathy—one that extends, in this case, far beyond Boston and a certain type of victim or perpetrator.

It’s true–the proximity of the events in Boston hit a particular nerve in me because I was a few miles away, and because I, and my children, family, and close friends, were just a few random choices away from being on the horrific site of the finish line. However, that personal fear, for me and others, seems to have given rise to a dialogue about a range of global issues, including the ethics of drone attacks, the nature of sectarian violence, and even how a lack of recent investment in U.S. infrastructure can create a context for disillusionment and violence.

In tonight’s run, I’ll be holding the human condition in my heart, because the Boston bombings tapped into a deep place of fear and sadness about the many challenges that stand in the way of a hopeful, healthy future for humanity and the earth itself.

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About lucindasrunningblog

Lucinda is an artist and teacher whose work focused on landscape and place. Bliss currently serves as Dean of Graduate Studies at the New Hampshire Institute of Art.
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One Response to Fear and Empathy

  1. “holding the human condition in my heart” thank you I find myself wondering what I can do in this world and this is the starting point of ALL

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