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Nine-year-old Nasra Omar reads a book to 1st graders at Riverton Elementary School. The school's mentoring Civil Rights Team, made up of 4th and 5th graders, read books to kindergartners and first graders about civil rights and anti-bias themes in Portland, Maine. (Photo: John Ewing/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Nine-year-old Nasra Omar reads a book to 1st graders at Riverton Elementary School. The school's mentoring Civil Rights Team, made up of 4th and 5th graders, read books to kindergartners and first graders about civil rights and anti-bias themes in Portland, Maine. (Photo: John Ewing/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

The Danger of Empathy

This inner transformation is never allowed to happen in some of our schools today, where teaching the history of the Black race in America is decried by White supremacists and those politicians who share their views.

Frank Breslin

The Desert Fathers of the 3rd and 4th centuries CE lived alone in their caves and hovels in the Egyptian wilderness and began to have visions. Gustave Flaubert’s The Temptation of St. Anthony gives a literary artist’s portrait of why it isn’t good to be alone and shut off from the world. We need other human beings to keep us human and, more to the point, to keep us sane.  

When we take the trouble of getting out of ourselves, we are no longer adrift in our own inner galaxy, but can mingle with all manner of different persons and all the beautiful things we share in common with the human family. We need this vacation from ourselves for balance and healing, but if we are cynical or bitter, we can project into others our own inner demons which we mistakenly believe to be theirs, whereas all we’ve discovered are only our own.

However, I would be less than candid was I not to alert you that there is a danger for some in reaching out to others through the magical power of role-play. In fact, these individuals feel that role-play is very dangerous, so dangerous, in fact, that they would even ban it from our schools, such is its power in awakening compassion toward others.

This discovery of the fate of millions who, through no fault of their own, had to endure a lifetime of suffering merely because of their color or creed, is a shocking revelation that remains with these children for the rest of their lives.

Role-play teaches the young many things, one of which is how bigotry and hatred can blind us to the suffering of others, suffering which those more powerful have made them endure.  It enables the young to feel the pain of others and be appalled at those responsible for inflicting that pain. It exposes them to the cruelty that one group can cause another when they learn of the horrors of American slavery, the extermination of the American Indians, and the persecution of the Jews through the centuries.

This discovery of the fate of millions who, through no fault of their own, had to endure a lifetime of suffering merely because of their color or creed, is a shocking revelation that remains with these children for the rest of their lives.

Those who could torture innocent men, women, and children, while at the same time priding themselves on being such virtuous, God-fearing folk, leave them deeply confused and unsettled. It makes them confront, perhaps for the first time in their lives, the inhumanity that so often comes with power over others and the twisted delusion that, while causing such pain, they are doing God’s Will.

It allows them to peer into the very heart of darkness to realize that there are those of such bottomless malignity who, with a clear conscience, could inflict such deeds upon others. Exposed to these lessons, it is no wonder that these children resolve to treat everyone, no matter their race or religion, with the deepest respect and dignity.

The power of role-play is, indeed, dangerous because it would mean that they could never understand how some in this world could demonize innocent groups of people – Blacks and other people of color, Asians, Jews, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community when they see them for who they really are: fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, grandmothers and grandfathers who want nothing more in this life than what everyone wants -- to be free to find a better life for themselves and their children.

Role-play is nothing else but the willingness to come out of ourselves and identify with the pain of others, an ability that makes and keeps us human. Those who possess this ability might even want to become better human beings while they are still young, open-minded, and have a sympathetic heart that beats within them.

If you are one of these young people, you might even want to remake the world into a place of justice and kindness where everyone can pursue their dreams without being victimized by those who cannot abide those who are different. If you do this, then your youth will be remembered as the Golden Time of your life.

All of these salutary lessons are the blessings of being made uncomfortable, which is always a source of growth, insight, and a deepened humanity.

Being made uncomfortable is the open sesame into a much larger world that lets us feel the pain of others that can transform us forever into more caring and sensitive members of the human family.

For out of the darkness of being uncomfortable comes the light of the discovery that we are all in this world together, sharing the same fate, and helping one another.

Regrettably, however, this inner transformation is never allowed to happen in some of our schools today, where teaching the history of the Black race in America is decried by White supremacists and those politicians who share their views.

Why are so many against this noble endeavor in our schools that could, for the next generation, begin the healing of America’s racism about which there is such obdurate denial?

Just listen to one possible answer:

God forbid that role-play should ever be allowed to be taught in our schools since the compassion it engenders toward other human beings might prove fatal in infecting our children.

Anything that awakens pity in the human heart is dangerous, but role-play is especially dangerous because it might also weaken our children’s belief that ours is the only true way, and that would mean the end of our world.

However, since God is on our side, we righteously struggle against those who would divide our great nation established by White men for the White race alone.

We are called benighted, implacable foes of justice and truth when the Lord has vouchsafed to bestow this great nation upon the White race alone to rule as our sovereign birthright. 

We are said to want to brainwash not only our children, but also the children of others who demand that Black history be taught in our schools.

The Federal Government claims that our doctrine of States’ Rights is but an excuse to perpetuate hatred and bigotry toward non-Whites unto the next generation. 

We call it the inviolable States’ Rights over the tyranny of a Federal Government that would impose its abominable falsehood of non-Whites being equal citizens on God-loving parents like ourselves, who champion the ways of our forefathers and, by Heaven, we shall never be moved!


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Frank Breslin

Frank Breslin

Frank Breslin is a retired high-school teacher with 40 years of experience in the New Jersey public school system, where he taught English, Latin, German, and social studies.

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