David Cash taught me that mass murders happen on the macro level when people on the individual and collective level let them happen, when witnesses — so-called “bystanders” — do little or nothing to intervene. When people either allow their fear or reluctance to “get involved” supersede their empathy.
Empathy, that special and majestic human quality, has always been a vital life force of our humanness. As we understand in psychology, unless there is developmental delay, infants demonstrate the rudimentary beginnings of empathy whenever they recognize that another is upset, and they show signs of being upset themselves. Very early in their lives, infants develop the capacity to crawl in the diapers of others even though their own diapers don’t need changing.
Though empathy is a part of the human condition, through the process of socialization, others often teach us to inhibit our empathetic natures with messages like “Don’t cry,” “You’re too sensitive,” “Mind your own business,” or “It’s not your concern.”
We learn the stereotypes of the individuals and groups our society has “minoritized” and “othered.” We learn who to scapegoat for the problems within our neighborhoods, states, nations, world.
Through it all, that precious life-affirming flame of empathy can wither and flicker. For some, it dies entirely. And as the blaze recedes, the bullies, the demagogues, the tyrants take over filling the void where our humanness once prevailed. And then we have lost something very precious.
David Cash represents the termination of empathy on the individual micro level, resulting not only in the possibly preventable rape and murder of a young girl, but the death of his own soul. And when the demise of empathy comes to powerful leaders, the consequences, on the macro level, become exponentially deeper, toxic, and tragic.
The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, comes from the same mold that produced David Cash. In addition to their obvious narcissistic sociopathic personality structures, their lack of empathy overrides their beliefs and actions.
Our President carelessly blamed the mayor of London for being incompetent after a terrorist attack on his city. He accused the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico for playing politics and being ungrateful, and the Puerto Rican people for being lazy and expecting everything to be done for them on their “bankrupt” island after a “500 year” storm virtually shut them down as people cling desperately to life.
He mocked a disabled reporter, took away the rights of trans students to use bathrooms most closely aligning with their gender identities, demonized Latinx people, Muslims, and women, ridiculed Gold Star parents who sacrificed so much while Donald Trump sits on his gold-plated toilet as he attempts to take away affordable health care insurance from an estimated 20 million low income people.
Quite frankly, I find few differences between the attitudes and actions of David Cash and Donald J. Trump. Though the Trumps and Cashes are more numerous than we can even imagine, empathy has always been an antidote to the poison of inaction, of prejudice, discrimination, stereotyping, and scapegoating, and to bullies and demagogues who take power and control.
Empathy is the life force of our humanness, and ultimately to our recovery during the current crisis of leadership in our country.