Limits of empathy and kindness

In a post around the same time last year I wrote down some thoughts about empathy and staying kind, when these qualities are largely absent in political debate. It is also absent in most discussions held on social media over polarizing topics. As positions become more and more extreme, I feel many people have lost the ability to say ‘stop’ and set boundaries.

Much too often I fall into the trap of discussing and trying to understand, while adversaries are not acting in good faith. While you think you’re playing the game of understanding and finding middle ground, they are playing the game of stealing your time and energy. While you try to convince someone to be less extreme and show some empathy, they play the game of “owning” you or trying to win an argument by all – even extreme – means.

Another popular example is the “concerned citizen”, the most pampered group in Germany for over two years now. Their reasons for acting concerned do not even matter because they are all rooted in an undercurrent of racism even when they don’t realize it or don’t want to acknowledge it. It does not matter if this group acts racist because of their parents, or friends, because they were radicalized online, or because of the fearmongering of right-wing political parties. It also does not matter if they are acting out of malice or out of fear, because their action or inaction has disastrous consequences for minorities. They are the offender, not the victim. If people are so “concerned” that they are fine with ignoring the fact, that they are walking with literal neo-nazis, than they are no better. Legitimizing racism makes you a racist yourself, even if you don’t want to realize it.

As “couch resistance” I’m dealing mostly with luxury problems. People like me have internalized the role of the empathetic, understanding listener and are too comfortable in this role. The only way to foster change seemed to be debate, reasoning and a evaluation of all ideas. This utopia has been proven wrong prior to World War II and is today tried again.

The goal is not to compare ideas and find the best one, even if racists want to make you think that. The goal is to prevent racist philosophies from becoming more popular, normalized or accepted. Racist ideology by definition is against everything that is against itself. This hits the limits of tolerance and must be stopped by all means with all available resources. We must be angry and we must show it. That is the decent thing to do and not trying to understand fears and being nice, because racism can’t be tolerated or debated away. This works superficially in single cases but the effort for this is unequally higher for those acting in good faith than for the racist. This strategy might feel better than more drastic measures but it is futile as the racist has an unfair advantage. They have no skin in the game – nothing to lose.

Racists and people who try to normalize racism must not be given a platform. If they have established a platform, or platforms don’t position themselves, they must be taken away or shut down. Big organizations, companies, brands must position themselves against racism or face dire risk of alienating and losing their diverse workforce or facing an ethics crisis. People spouting racist ideologies – sometimes touched up as “concerns” – must be muzzled to prevent further spreading of normalizing of racism. Concerned citizens need to understand that they are following in footsteps of neo-nazis.

Debate and discussion has proven to be too weak of a strategy to oppose racism as the currency is not logic, but emotion. Instead of understanding concerned citizens, they need to be socially ostracized. That might mean breaking up with racist friends, partners, or even family, changing jobs, calling out people or companies publicly, being loud and uncomfortable. This needs to be the new normal. Have the better strategy and understand the game you’re in. The fear of consequences from being racist or a “concerned citizen” needs to be bigger than the fear people use as a lame excuse for their thinly veiled racism.