Friday, June 17, 2016

Orange Is The New Black & Breeding Empathy

“Books breed empathy.”

. . . so does watching Orange Is The New Black.

One of the challenges of living in a pluralistic and diverse society is having empathy for people who have different life experiences and beliefs. It’s a lot easier as a human when we lived in social groups in which everyone looked the same (were of the same race and ethnicity) and everyone went to the same church. In these situations, there was no doubt who were in the tribe and who were outsiders. Empathy was extended to people who were clearly defined as part of the tribe through familial and cultural connections.

The moral development of America has called on us to look past the physical markers of our tribes and extend out community to people who do not share our own beliefs. Desegregation asked us to move passed our evolutionary instincts and see others that looked different as no longer being “other.” As we try to move to a more pluralistic idea of religious diversity we see the struggle of faiths to balance their own need to be the “right” religion while accepted the validity other faiths.

All of this is asking us to broaden and strengthen our sense of empathy and this is really hard. The most immediate and effective way to broaden our sense of empathy is to created positive relationships with people who represent the “other.” The problem with this is that even though we live in a more diverse society than ever before in history of our country, many people simply don’t encounter people who are different than them.

In the reactions to the tragedy in Orlando, it has become clear that many people still have a sizable empathy gap with the LGBTQ community.

How do cross this empathy gap? If a liberal minded person like myself who has lived in liberal and diverse cities didn’t meet their first openly gay friend until college and didn’t make their first transgender friend until last year how are people who live in more homogeneous cities suppose to bring people who are LGBTQ into their community?

Watch Orange Is The New Black.

I’m not claiming that watching a television show will solve all of our problems, but this show, like all great art, will help build much needed empathy for members of the LGBTQ community, minorities and woman.

This show is one the best televisions shows ever made. It is shocking, powerful, heartbreaking, full of suspense, and hilarious. This is a show that addresses the most controversial issues in our society with humanity. This show challenges stereotypes and instead of preaching, asks viewers to reexamine assumptions and viewpoints.

Men, please break the cultural double standard and watch this piece of art about women. In almost all corners of art, television, books, film and music, woman regularly consume art created by men from male perspectives while men rarely experience art created by women from female perspectives (when I ask my students who their favorites singers are this fact becomes depressingly clear). This show to too good, and it is too important for our habits of cultural consumptions and stereotypes about female created art to prevent us from experiencing Orange Is The New Black.

Many people don’t understand the struggle of people who are transgendered. The character of Sophia will help. No, it’s not a story that represents all transgendered experiences, but it’s an important window. Diversity in lesbian culture is deftly portrayed as well as issues of privilege, our justice system, drug addiction, race and parenthood.

What makes this show work is not that it’s about issues, but that it is truly wonderful entertainment.

If you want to make the tragedy in Orlando mean something in your own life, in your heart, in your soul, one way is to reach out to others in person and/or through art to better empathize with the LGBTQ experience. Orange Is The New Black is a fun place to start. The new season is coming out this weekend; if you haven’t seen this show, give the first three episodes of season one a try.  If you have seen this show, you are probably currently binge watching this show.

It truly is that good.

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