Parker's Prose by Parker Senska

It’s been quite a while since my last column, and people have been asking when I’ll do another, so I figured I’d write about a topic that’s been jostling in my brain: empathy.

Empathy is defined in the Cambridge Dictionary as “the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.” 

I’m unsure whether it’s because people aren’t employing empathy as much as time goes on or if I’m just noticing people’s lack of it now that I’m older, but all too often, I hear people make comments about others being too whiny, or they state how others’ situations could be miraculously solved. These people are making assumptions instead of taking the time and effort to understand and feel what the other person is experiencing. 

When you try to empathize with someone, you take the time to step back from your own assumptions and instead step into the other person’s shoes. How would you feel in that person’s situation? If you’re then inclined to jump to some sort of solution, take additional time to reflect. What are the obstacles and sacrifices to the solutions you come up with? Understand there may be some you aren’t seeing. In addition, understand that, while that solution may work for you, it wouldn’t necessarily work for others. Everyone has their own personalities, their own strengths and weaknesses, their own skill sets. If your car broke down on the side of the road, and an engineer scoffed and told you to just fix it, how would that feel to you?

Of course, recognize that you won’t be able to understand completely what the other person is feeling, especially if you’re unable to ask them questions to help you understand. It’s very easy to make assumptions, so try to keep the disdain that can arise from this to a minimum, reminding yourself there could be more to the picture.

Empathy can help with this nonsensical us versus them mentality in current politics, too. 

In a Ted Talk by Megan Phelps-Roper, she discussed how civil conversations with others, where each party took the time and effort to understand each others’ points of view, led to revelations that resulted in her leaving the Westboro Baptist Church.

She went on to compare her church’s thinking of “us against everyone else” with the political polarization occuring in today’s society. 

“We’ve broken the world into us and them, only emerging from our bunkers long enough to lob rhetorical grenades at the other camp. We write off half the country as out-of-touch liberal elites or racist misogynist bullies. No nuance, no complexity, no humanity.”

Phelps-Roper notes four things which those who helped change her mind “did differently that made real conversation possible:” 

Don’t assume bad intent – “Assuming ill motives almost instantly cuts us off from truly understanding why someone does and believes as they do. We forget that they’re a human being with a lifetime of experience that shaped their mind.” Their point of view could stem from a lack of information, or is well meaning but coming from an angle you’re not understanding.

Ask questions – “We can’t present effective arguments if we don’t understand where the other side is coming from.” Don’t assume where they’re coming from. Figure out why your views differ from one another. Be open to the other person reciprocating questions, as well, as they try to understand your own point of view.

Stay calm – “I thought my rightness justified my rudeness. … Dialing up the volume and snark is natural in stressful situations, but it tends to bring the conversation to an unsatisfactory, explosive end.” Resorting to yelling and name calling is a surefire way to get the other side to dismiss anything you say; it merely corroborates their negative view of you. Staying calm can be hard, especially when faced with the other person’s anger and indignation. Should the conversation become too heated, you might even need to take a break from it and choose to continue the discussion later. 

Make the argument – “We sometimes assume that the value of our position is or should be obvious and self-evident, that we shouldn’t have to defend our positions because they’re so clearly right and good. … But if it were that simple, we would all see things the same way.” Clarify your position and why you feel that way. Instead of prepping your next retort, actively listen to what the other person has to say and take a moment to reflect on any counterarguments made. Accept that your own views may change as new points you never realized are brought up.

Even if you’re unable to change the other person’s mind, remember that they’re still human. Humanity is in shades of gray; everyone has good and bad qualities. Weigh on these heavily if you’re ever considering going as far as cutting someone out of your life.

I understand that empathy can be difficult, exhausting, and, by definition, painful at times, but if people could learn to exercise it more often, then our country, our world, would be a much better place.

P.S. If you have 15 minutes, I recommend listening to Phelps-Roper’s entire Ted Talk at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVV2Zk88beY.

My Facebook wall, and even my Twitter feed, have been covered with reports and opinions on the rioting these last few days, some condoning such actions, others calling the entire movement BS, and a few calling out the rioting while also sympathizing with the idea that the system does need to be reworked.

I fall among the latter. I don’t understand how rioting is going to help a cause; all it will do is increase the stigma people have for the marginalized group. I also agree with the sentiment that some people don’t care about the movement and are selfishly using it as an opportunity to steal or take out their anger at the world. 

Now that I’ve gotten my stance out of the way, I have to wonder why the riots are all the media seems to be reporting on. Where are the peaceful protests? Where was the coverage of the march that was going on in Sioux Falls the same day as the riot on the other side of town? Where was the coverage of the march in Flint, Mich., where the town’s sheriff even showed his support and joined in? Where was the coverage of the peaceful protesters stopping those trying to incite violence, protecting stores and even handing offenders over to the police like in Washington, D.C.? Where’s the coverage of the officers in many locations across our country taking a knee with protestors?

Instead, most of what I’ve seen reported by big media are the riots, police attacking protestors, rioters attacking police. Because that’s what brings in ratings – sensationalism sells. But this kind of irresponsible reporting just incites outrage and violence and continues to push our country into this “us vs. them” mentality. 

It’s not a surprise coming from the media that already enjoys pitting Republicans and Democrats against each other. That’s why I don’t trust networks like Fox News and CNN that use language to cast blame on the other side. The screenshot included with this column illustrates my point. Neither of these titles tell us about what was passed; instead, they immediately begin attacking the other side. News networks should portray the barebone facts for the viewer to decide how they feel, not portray their own opinions as facts. Be careful not to fall for this trap. Casting the blame on everyone in a single party or group would be like saying “all cops are bad.”

As for the rioting, understand that I’m not suggesting media only portray the “kumbaya” moments, as that would skew the perception that there’s no need for social reform. I just want to see both the peaceful protests and the riots, a well balanced view of the situation. Instead of this oversaturation of anger and despair, let’s bring a little camaraderie and hope into the world.

By Rep. Marli Wiese

It was good to meet with constituents in Flandreau, Madison and Howard last weekend, and I am thankful to the groups that arranged these cracker barrels. Many times, there are questions and comments that we haven’t seen yet, and it helps to know what issues residents of our District are interested in.

All school districts are anxious to hear about sales tax revenue numbers for the last quarter of 2019. We may have good estimates by the end of this week. Legislators are working with the appropriations committee to see if we can give teachers, state employees, and community support providers the increase they need.  

There were several questions about the security system installed at the capitol this fall.  This was not an expenditure that legislators were asked to approve. The system was up and running earlier this year and appears now to be fully operational.

House Bill 1083 to adopt the change in name from technical institutes to technical colleges passed out of the Education committee and the full house floor last week. The bill was proposed as a marketing tool as technical schools work to enroll more students. There were concerns that, since enrollment at tech schools was growing while the Board of Regents schools struggled to hold students, that the bill wasn’t needed. Surrounding states also making this change was another reason for the bill’s introduction.

The Judiciary committee heard HB1047 revising provisions regarding human trafficking. Becky Rasmussen with Call To Freedom was instrumental in the drafting of this bill and has been working with trafficking victims in the state. The bill enhances the crime of human trafficking and allows a minor to apply for expungement of their record while they are still a minor instead of waiting until they are 18 years of age to appear in court on their own. The bill also provides better access to victim resources in terms of victim compensation and restitution.

Madison residents, Kim Verhey and Dan Fritz with American Legion Post #25, were in Pierre last week to receive a commemoration recognizing and honoring the Veterans Park to be built in Madison. The commemoration was read in both the House and Senate chambers. It is our hope that this will draw more attention to the project and assist Post #25 as they continue in fundraising.

I can be reached at  marli.wiese@sdlegislature.gov with any questions or comments you may have as the 95th session enters its fifth week.

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