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The Powerful and the Arrogant

October 7, 2013

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We all knew it intuitively, but now we know it through scientific study.  According to a new study by psychologist Daniel Goleman, a growing body of evidence shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little power.  Higher status people according to his studies are more likely to express disregard and pay scant attention to those of lower socioeconomic status.

It reminds me some years back when my wife and I were having dinner in a restaurant and a famous celebrity was seated right nearby.  Against my advice, my wife as we left the restaurant asked for his autograph.  Without even raising his eyes to recognize her presence he abruptly refused the request.  In the same time taken for his refusal he could’ve signed his name, but he wouldn’t even look her in the eye.

Goleman argues that all this has profound implications for societal behavior.  Tuning into the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which can lead to compassionate action.  What it all gets down to is the selfishness of so many to only their own particular needs.  Unfortunately it is symbolized in the politics of America today.  Everyone just cares about their own needs and the kingdom that supports them.

 How little we have learned from the teachings of the Hebrew prophets who urged empathetic compassion and action more than 2700 years ago.  The injunction to care, to have empathy, and to act upon that empathy for those in a more difficult situation than ourselves is repeated over and over in the Hebrew Bible: You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan.  Exodus 22: 20-21.  Simply put we are commanded to have empathy because it doesn’t come natural for so many people.  Let’s give each other a little respect, even if we are not on their same socioeconomic level, even if we are not going to “get” something out of the relationship.  It is amazing in 2700 years how little we have learned.

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