Empathy and service – a new kind of activism

The blind French resistance fighter, Jacques Lusseyran, described arriving in Buchenwald and being stripped of every visible marker of status and identity. He observed that only those who had an inner sense of self independent of status  were able to survive the camp. 

This theme is very pertinent now. President Donald Trump has been described as so lacking in a sense of inner self that he is entirely motivated by a longing for power to prop up his fragile ego. His inability to be still is described by some as a fleeing from the terrible void inside him.

In contrast Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a member of Congress only in order to serve her sorely neglected Bronx constituents. When I spoke about her with my American father in law, he described experiencing a new politics based not on ambition but on empathy. ‘AOC’ is also remarkable because she is not a naive idealist. You can see this in her clips on Youtube or in the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House. She is polite, well-informed and strong. She is also tremendously effective in getting to the truth of the matter in the face of powerful opposition. I get a strange, joyful feeling when I listen to her. I am watching a politician I trust – something that I had almost given up hope of ever experiencing again.This encourages me to activate my own idealism anew.

The saddest thing I have ever experienced in my life has been seeing groups doing good work which was then sabotaged by individuals who used the group not for its stated purpose but for their own petty personal agendas. AOC and many others are establishing a new way of working which mitigates this destructive tendency.

My contribution to this emerging zeitgeist was to create  my project, The Search for the Deep Self. I made this work in order to make visible how worthwhile it is to give up the need for this self-seeking ‘phantom’ ego. If we are not to go back to business as usual after this world crisis we will have to work as much on ourselves as on the urgent needs facing us.We are in the process of earning the right to live in a democracy. That means changing ourselves. In other words freedom is not doing what we like, it is what the German poet Goethe called self mastery. Attempting self-mastery will mean finding the personal motivation to put down the need for self aggrandisement. It will mean becoming ever evolving free individuals.Such individuals can then form ever evolving groups equipped to meet these urgent needs by re imagining the world. We cannot serve without becoming a self, the deep self that I experience when watching Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. When people praise her and try to make her into a hero leader she discourages them asking instead: What can you do?

2 Responses to Empathy and service – a new kind of activism

  1. Wendy Oldershaw August 25, 2020 at 6:01 pm #

    Hello Deborah. I enjoyed talking with you at Oxford Town Hall more than 20yrs ago. I bought the box of studies linked to ‘ Search for the Deep Self’. Glad to see this article on Facebook – more please. And thank you.

  2. Mikechasemasks@gmail.com September 1, 2020 at 5:09 pm #

    Dear Deb, so good you’re blogging, its a great medium for you to really reach out. Just reading his book, Jaque’s book, so delicate and loving. I’m forwarding it on… Much love, Mike

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