Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Opinion

July 17, 2013

House of Burgess: Extreme exercises in empathy

Mos Def shows George Zimmerman how it's done.

(Continued)

Humans necessarily begin life solipsistic. Abstract emotional thinking must be cultivated and encouraged.

In my Nov. 28, 2012, column, “Put politicians on food stamps,” I detailed the various efforts public figures have taken over the years to understand the struggles of the less fortunate. These fine individuals included: Cory Booker, Newark, N.J. mayor and now Senate candidate, and Greg Stanton, Phoenix, Ariz. mayor, who both spent a week living on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program diet; Christopher Hitchens, the late great journalist, who agreed to be waterboarded; and Rep. Leo Ryan, the California congressman who spent 10 days in 1970 as a prisoner — under a pseudonym — in Folsom State Prison.

Last month, 26 members of Congress followed Booker and Stanton’s example in protest of the massive food stamp cuts in the approved Farm Bill. None of these leaders emerged on the opposite end of their experiment the same as when they started.

I write these words just over 24 hours after George Zimmerman was acquitted by six jurors in Sanford, Fla., in the death of Trayvon Martin. Listening to Zimmerman’s 911 call from the night of Feb. 6, 2012, is chilling. It’s clear the following exchange is the turning point in the conversation:

Dispatcher: Are you following him?

Zimmerman: Yeah.

Dispatcher: OK, we don’t need you to do that.

At that moment, had Zimmerman simply followed those instructions, Martin would still be alive and they would have probably remained just as anonymous as they ever were. If Zimmerman had had human solidarity on the brain that fateful evening rather than some overzealous need to confront the dreaded “other,” he could have spared us all the trouble.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

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