Q & R: empathy or apathy?

Here’s the Q:

My name is xx. I’m [in my 30’s], a product of Catholic School and a Methodist upbringing. I am a published poet and currently work at the Job Corps in Pittsburgh.
I just finished your book “Everything Must Change.” It was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Over the past ten years or so I’ve volunteered with soup kitchens and homeless organizations in … NY, NYC, and … Pittsburgh. I am very impressed by the courage you show in your writing. The world would be so much better for so many people, if there was more empathy, instead of consumer induced apathy. There seem to be many who want our government to do all, which I feel that over the last ten years it has not done nearly enough. I was against both the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and participated in protests in NYC and Washington, DC. It is staggering the amount we are willing to spend on bombing people, yet we put up such a fight when asked to put up a much smaller amount to feed them, or help prevent diseases, or for that matter, when we are asked to pay a little more in taxes so our fellow citizens will have access to afordable healthcare.
Anyway, I’m rambling, but thanks for your book and insight. What else can I do as an ordinary citizen to help?

Reply after the jump …

Thanks for your note. Empathy or apathy – that says it really well. Thanks also for your comment on the our sad willingness to spend more and more on war … Tax day was yesterday, and I understand that in this year’s budget, about 48 cents out of every dollar will go to defense/military-related spending. Imagine if even 4 or 5 cents of that were invested instead in hunger, agriculture, education, and other life-enhancing endeavors for those who are most in need. Then imagine if 10 or 20 cents went in that direction. I can’t help but think that this kind of reinvestment, wisely implemented, would result in more, not less, national security.
Your question about helping “as an ordinary citizen” – here are some preliminary suggestions.
1. Don’t consider yourself just an ordinary citizen. Understand that your identity as a follower of Christ makes you an agent and activist for the kingdom of God.
2. Educate yourself. I have a list of key issues (you know them – from EMC – peace, poverty, planet, purpose) that I seek to become more knowledgeable about, and I pay special attention to news relating to these issues.
3. Use your voice. Speak up gently and kindly but firmly and courageously whenever you can on behalf of those in need.
4. Use your political and economic voting power. Obviously, voting comes along every year or two or four or six. But every day, you vote with your dollars. I continue to believe that a fair trade/ethical buying movement could be one of the most important contributions we can make to the common good in our lifetime.
5. Pick a place or two where you focus your efforts. You can’t help everyone everywhere, but you can help some folks somewhere. A friend of mine picked a poor island where virtually nobody else is involved. Another friend picked the issue of literacy in Haiti. Another friend focuses on toilets – a big deal in terms of health and quality of life. I have a few key places where I pour my efforts, time, money, and heart.
6. Network. Find and nourish relationships with others who share your empathy … and seek to make empathy contagious over apathy.
7. Pray and integrate your concerns as part of your spiritual life. Empathy and action are critical to a healthy spirituality.