Voices Lacking Empathy

January 3rd, 2011

If you’re not black, brown, male, female, gay or straight, is it possibleĀ to really comprehend the pain of one who’s not of your group?

Voices Lacking Empathy

The issues surrounding the 2009 Warm Sands Public Sex Sting operation by the Palm Springs police department and subsequent publicity given to disparaging remarks about gay individuals by police personnel, has become a cause of considerable concern to the LGBT community. The sting operation resulted in the arrest of individuals and criminal court trial dates appear in the offing. The Palm Springs police chief has been quoted in print as one who was particularly disparaging in his anti-LGBT comments. His dismissal or retention as chief continues to be one of great divisiveness that in some instances pits the LGBT community against the “straight” community.

It’s my opinion a failure to communicate is partly responsible for the divisiveness of opinion. Many in the “straight” community express concerns about sex acts in public. They appear unable to focus on any of the other serious issues that have merited public attention. The LGBT community is concerned about police entrapment, excessive violation charges, anti-gay police personnel and what’s perceived as incomplete and unfair news coverage by elements of the media. Will it ever be possible for both communities to communicate and, of greater importance, prove each understands, appreciates and desires to address all concerns of the other?

I recently had a brief radio broadcast conversation with a couple of gentlemen – heterosexuals, both – regarding their rather definitive statements and views of the LGBT community. My advice to them was in the vein that you need to walk in another’s shoes in order to experience their pain. The response I received was completely heterosexually stereotypical. Both gentlemen quickly moved to establish their credentials as credible sources with respect to issues of concern to LGBT people. The credentials included references to the number of gay friends each had, or a relative who was gay, or their complete acceptance of homosexuality and anyone who was homosexual. And yet neither seemed aware their responses were stereotypical. Neither seemed to understand that these efforts at bolstering their own image was counterproductive and that confession to some degree of ignorance on the subject might have been more productive. It was my perception our brief exchange had not produced productive communication.

Until all interested parties seriously take steps to understand the other, issues such as the sex sting operation will continue to result in unrest and divisiveness. All those of good will should remember that race, gender, and sexual preference are only 100% understood by members of the group. If you’re not black, brown, white, male, female, homosexual, heterosexual, transgender or handicapped, your understanding of one not of your group will never be complete. Perhaps a good way to start down the road to understanding is to stop pretending that because you have friends who are black, brown, white, etc., it qualifies you as a competent spokesperson who fully understands the concerns of those in another group. Seriously consider whether, on your part, a confession of ignorance and a willingness to listen, learn and try for understanding are steps with the best hope for achieving empathy.

Bond Shands
Palm Springs