Practicing empathy is not easy. To put our money where our mouths are, we must constantly confront the limits to which our hearts will open. Our daily lives, our national and political affiliations come with biases we must constantly confront as we seek to expand our powers of empathy. Perhaps in the time we now live, we Americans are more divided into warring camps than ever before. And the values we cherish often inspire hatred in the hearts of not only our opponents in different parts of our country, but in our own families.
Empathy requires that we practice it perhaps especially with people or groups who we do not like. If we say we cannot imagine why an opponent could believe what they do, we have not practiced hard enough. Our great spiritual leader Marin Luther King said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” Can we embrace that? Can we live it? We can try. In the theatre we shed light on the heart of darkness, so that it can be understood. And we defend the villain, testifying not that they are right, but that they are worthy of out compassion as a human. We have imagined ourselves in their shoes and understand.
Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” famously said, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Even when we are bitterly opposed and reconciled to the fact that conflict is inevitable, empathy is the road to success. The exercise of knowing your enemy prepares you to understand how they may approach and overcome. Feeling what they feel, fearing what they fear, hoping for what they hope for; if these practices do not put us on the road to peace, they will prepare us for war.
Aristotle said that tragedy promotes fear and pity in the heart of the observer: Fear that the same fate might befall them. And once that fear is felt, pity for the fate of the fallen. And of course, many of the subjects of our great tragedies, from Oedipus to Macbeth to Keller in All My Sons, do horrible things. And yet, the purpose of drama is that we enter into their experience so that we fear the same could happen to us.
– Artistic Director
Wera V. W.
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