Empathy

I have about 100 pages left to go in My Life So Far.

This has been one of the best autobiographies I've ever read. I have read other celebrity autobiographies that were interesting, but not compelling. This book, however, has impacted me in a variety of ways. Especially thought provoking are the chapters "Hanoi," "Bamboo" and "Framed" -- where Fonda writes about her anti-war activism; her convictions and her regrets.

She wrote about talking face-to-face in 1988 with 26 Vietnam vets in a church hall. They sat in a circle. She shared information with them that they had not known or considered (knowledge that motivated her to activism). The vets shared feelings and emotions with her that she never could have known or considered -- because no matter how deeply she cared about the GIs, she had not been one. There was no way for her to understand what it felt like to be in their skin without having them explain it to her themselves. And, more importantly, she had to be willing to listen and HEAR them.

These chapters were extremely moving. I've read things that made me angry and things that made me cry. Some of the words spoken in that meeting made my heart pound and I had to read them out loud to John. I was very young during the Vietnam war and I didn't understand it. I have heard it said that the men who got us into that war knew all along it was a war that could never be won. Maybe I never thought deeply enough about that. But when I read it "spelled out" for me in the book -- information that propelled Fonda to vocally oppose the war -- I felt the same outrage she felt. I also felt outrage on behalf of the vets as I read of their unique mental and emotional wounds. It is obvious, in hindsight, that we were, as a nation, deceived and betrayed by political leaders. Of course, most of us realize that today. But back then a lot of citizens were buying the propaganda. Those who supported the government were thought patriotic. Those who opposed the system -- on behalf of those who were being put in harm's way -- were considered disloyal. (In addition to the history lesson, there were obvious parallels in my own life.)

The meeting lasted four hours. Fonda described it as "raw, angry, and emotional." But it was the beginning of healing. And the reason was clear. Not only were people talking, they were all caring enough to listen. They allowed themselves to feel empathy for one another and look at an event through a lens other than their own. Doing so did not nullify their own perspective, but it gave them a fuller perspective from which empathy could grow and healing could begin.

"The vets and I couldn't have started from two more wildly divergent places, but the fact of our being able to face one another for those four hours was important for all of us. I have come to feel that one reason healing doesn't happen more often is that the two sides don't allow themselves to really hear each other's narratives.
Empathy is the answer." ~ Jane Fonda

Whether you agree with her politics or not, you have to admit she has a point here. I think her quote is true of all wars; not just the ones fought with guns and bombs.

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