MIAD BRIDGE NOVEMBER 2011
Hope Community bringing
Hope & Rescue
Every Separation is a Link
Painting Murals Nate Pyper helps create thought-provoking mural.
Hope & Rescue The flooding of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Every Separation is a Link Isabel Kent discusses her analysis on empathy.
departments 4 10
November Calendar Enjoy your family this November with free events and trips all around the Milwaukee area.
Bank Builders Find out how to save money with these helpful tips.
Word Editor a
Written & Revised by Izamar Virafuentes
Growing up in a low-income family has influenced my lifestyle and way of thinking. I learned to appreciate what I have, and to never complain about things that I donâ€™t possess. Most of my relatives struggled over the years for food and shelter. I noticed it was difficult for them to get the help. Both my mom and dad always managed to lend a hand when financial problems came up in the family. By realizing the problem and taking action, I understood how reaching out makes a difference in oneâ€™s life. The generosity of oneself creates hope for another. The theme surrounding this magazine is empathy and service. Helping one another and making the community a better place for next generations are essential parts of life. Throughout the MIAD BRIDGE, there are departments exercising the concept of generosity, hope, and healthy environments. This magazine is also meant to educate parents on the local organizations, and to help spread the word. Which is why the MIAD BRIDGE is completely free and easily accessible to families.
into the SUNDAY 6
In November’s edition, we concentrate with
7 Milwaukee Public Museum Mitchell Park Domes
Milwaukee’s educational and creative events.* They are positive and healthy environments for all families. All of the events listed in here are completely free. Have fun!
14 Milwaukee Public Museum Mitchell Park Domes
Milwaukee Art Museum mam.org 20
Veteran’s Day Parade It’ll be held in Downtown at 11am 414.273.5533
21 Milwaukee Public Museum Mitchell Park Domes
Milwaukee County Zoo Remember to bring your ID 414.256.5412 Milwaukee Public Museum Call toll free at 888-700-9069
Lady Elks Craft & Vendor Fall Fair 5555 W Good Hope Rd from 9am to 3pm. MilwaukeeHolidayParade It’ll be held in downtown at 9:30am.
* Travel Wisconsin. N.p., 2011. Web. 7 Nov. 2011.
28 Milwaukee Public Museum Mitchell Park Domes
Mitchell Park Domes Free from 9am to noon.
Milwaukee Art Museum
5 Veteranâ€™s Day Parade Milwaukee County Zoo
19 Lady Elks Craft & Vendor Fall Fair Milwaukee Holiday Parade
Milwaukee County Zoo
Painting Murals Written by Nate Pyper / Revised by Izamar Virafuentes
Hope House is known primarily for its transitional living facilities, it also provides tutoring services for the children who live in the provided housing, as well as those living in the neighboring area. College student Nate Pyper, served in the Shining Stars Youth Program where he provided academic aid for the youth. His job involved reading assignments, and covering basic subjects like math, science, and spelling. Over the summer, students and volunteers like Nate Pyper, created positive and thought-provoking murals.
What is Hope House? Check this out! W. Greenfield Ave.
S. 1st St.
S. 3rd St.
Hope House goal is to end homelessness and create healthy communities. For more information visit hopehousemke.org
W. Orchard St. S. 2nd St.
209 W. Orchard St. Milwaukee, WI 53204 N
Also, feel free to call them at 414.645.2122 E
Q: What types of services does Hope House provide? A: Hope House Milwaukee, as an organization, is a “transitional living facility” and “community center.” Their primary service is to provide temporary housing for struggling families who need a place to stay while they get back on their feet. Those who occupy the provided housing maintain a weekly chore and rotate cooking duty between each other, as well as attend weekly “life skills classes which cover topics such as parenting, basic budget management, and stress management.” They also offer the “Thresholds Program” which provides emergency shelter for local homeless men. They are allowed to live at Hope House for up to 60 days and work with a case manager to find permanent employment and housing. The Angel of Hope Clinic is Hope House’s health care service offering medical treatment for adults and children who qualify as having low or no income. I served in the tutoring center (under the Shining Stars Youth Program) where I provided academic aid for students ranging between elementary and middle school. Hope House also recognizes the importance of giving back to the community it resides in, so it also works to host and facilitate neighborhood events, forums, clean-ups, and seminars. Their mission statement is simple, and succinct: “To end homelessness and create healthy communities.” Hope House is having an amazingly positive effect on our Milwaukee community and is succeeding as an organization.
Q: Are you willing to initiate something new in the world? What would you create with others? A: I want to assist others in providing platforms for creativity, expression, opinions, and progress. I’m still working with the film festival I started a few years ago with a couple of friends that supports the arts and donates funds to our local homeless shelter in my hometown. A lot of people just need a venue to be able to speak their minds – once one is provided, people are enabled to do things that they might have not thought themselves able to do before. I want to facilitate this. I’m willing to be misunderstood, misrepresented, and mistreated if it means that others are empowered and healthy communities are nurtured. I consider the well-being of the community as a whole more important than my own comfort. I realize that this all might seem vague or silly or naive, but I truly believe these things and am actively dictating the small choices I make everyday to follow in accordance with my beliefs.
Q: Was there ever a challenging moment in the time you volunteered for Shining Stars Youth Program?
Q: How has your experience of service affected your outlook on the community?
A: One thing that’s been challenging to hear is the children speak about their distressed conditions. They don’t speak about it openly often, but every once in awhile, something will slip out that points to the acknowledgement of their unfortunate circumstances. One moment I can remember specifically was when we were painting the mural. The children were tasked with painting things that indicated “here” (reality) on one and “there” (hopes/ fantasy) on the other. Some children painted a dog on the “here” while drawing a dragon on the “there” or a road on the “here” and a red carpet on the “there.”
A: It has definitely reinforced my belief in the importance of voluntary service in the vitality and health of a community. There are people in need all over our city, and organizations like Hope House are working to provide for those needs; by providing volunteer opportunities, they are allowing for others to have a hand in the improvement of their own neighborhood, city, country, and world. Support is the essence of a strong community.
I’m willing to be misunderstood and misrepresented, if it means that others are empowered, and healthy communities are nurtured. I remember one child in particular who knew he wanted to paint a limo on the “there” panel but was unsure of what to draw on the “here” panel as a companion. After some discussion with the other students, they decided that a city bus was the best decision. They indicated that the city bus was for poor people and those who couldn’t afford a car. This struck me as shocking and sort of served as a wake-up call, because I’ve always blissfully and intentionally taken the bus as an alternative to driving, a decision born out of my own environmental responsibility rather than necessity. However, it didn’t really occur to me until that day the bus was also a symbol of poverty for those who had no choice but to use the bus as transit. This forced me to be more aware of my surroundings and consider the way in which others interact within a given space.
Hope House Milwaukee. Web. // “Success Stories: Xavier Ruffin.” MIAD.edu. Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Web.
Written & Revised by Izamar Virafuentes
Finance control can be tedious and can also be hard to manage. Which is why we have 5 easy tips to help alleviate this problem. Following this advise will bring you a step closer to a stress-free life.
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$ Take public transportation With gas prices at an all time high, riding the bus is cheaper and better for the environment Make a list before shopping Say goodbye to spontaneous buys by writing down the necessities only. Stay within your budget and stick with it. Save your pennies Pocket change may not seem like a lot, but after a monthâ€™s worth of collecting, it adds up to be big bucks! Home-cooked meals Time away from fast food joints and restaurants can be helpful to both your health and wallet. Bottle your own water Water can be expensive at stores. Filtering your own water saves money and saves the earth.
NOVEMBER 2011 |11
Hope Rescue of and
Written by Shannon Wunderlich / Revised by Izamar Virafuentes
The natural disaster managed to leave Cedar Rapids, Iowa in ruins. However, the faith and determination of the residents in Iowa go unharmed. Drowned in debt, the state was unable to provide necessities such as clean water an shelter for those affected by the flood. This compelling article shows the hope and generosity that rescued this city and its people.
Outside of Midwesterners, it’s safe to say that most Americans overlook rural farmland states like Iowa. There are no professional sports teams with show-stopping athletes, no noteworthy theme parks or major entertainment stadiums, national landmarks or beaches. Iowa’s largest city, the capital city of Des Moines, falls from its local number one spot to 106th on the list of most populous U.S. cities, by which time the state of California has already weighed in 17 times. But while Iowa may be lacking in superstardom, they hold their own in the drama department, laying claim to an especially devastating history of record-breaking floods. From May through August of 1851, the United States Midwest experience record-setting rainfalls. Of all the states affected by the consequential flooding, Iowa suffered the most. The degree of devastation was most likely exacerbated by the newness of the state’s major settlements, which had only been established for less than ten years at the time. Inexperienced new residents weren’t prepared for a major flood and river towns lacked the necessary levees and substantial bridges capable of withstanding significant flooding.
“In an effort to combat such a multitude of threats to public health, the major hospitals and clinics worked together to provide over 9,000 free tetanus shots.” Crops were destroyed, roads rendered impassable, houses and fences reduced to rubble and strewn across the farmlands, rendering the entire work of the season unsalvageable. Des Moines suffered a decrease in population, which some directly blamed on the flood. Over the next century, Iowa bounced back from the obliteration of their first settlements. The introduction of railroads in the 1850s and 60s transformed Iowa into a major agricultural production center. The economy continued to grow and change as the U.S. industrialized, giving way to the rise of a significant increase in manufacturing, which brought about a correspondingly significant increase in monetary gain. Soon major companies, including but not limited to General Mills, Heinz, Quaker Oats, Wonder Bread/Hostess, John Deere, and the Maytag Corporation, erected advanced processing and production facilities throughout the state. Just as the state seemed to be settling into a routine, disaster struck again. The Great Flood of 1993 is still one of the most costly and devastating to ever occur in the U.S, warranting over $15 billion in damages. An unusually rainy fall season and heavy winter snowfall combined with the faulty system of levees put in place after the 1851 flood
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was disastrous for not only the state of Iowa, but multiple others surrounding the Mississippi River and it’s respective tributaries. Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, Illinois, and the Dakotas all suffered catastrophic repercussions resulting in destruction, displacement, and disarray. While 1993’s Great Flood was greater in continental terms, on a more localized scale specific to the state, Iowa hadn’t seen anything yet. The Iowa Flood of 2008 is the latest and greatest in the state’s unfortunate history of hydrological happenings and has often been referred to as “Iowa’s Katrina.” The flooding of two of Iowa’s top five largest cities, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, were particularly devastating. Of these two, the recovery for Cedar Rapids has proved a considerably more drawn out and costly ordeal. Where Iowa City was adequately anticipatory of potential damages, Cedar Rapids was unfortunate in their underestimation of the forces of nature. Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in the state of Iowa and the county seat of Linn County. The city spans both banks of the Cedar River, making it entirely susceptible to the dangers of fluctuating water levels. City hall, the Linn County Courthouse, and the county jail–government run buildings of significant function–were all located on Mays Island, a small plateau in the middle of the Cedar River, before the 2008 floods rendered them unfit for occupation. In the history of natural disasters, Cedar Rapids is the only U.S. city to lose their City Hall, County Jail, Municipal Court Facilities, Central Fire Department, Central Library, and Police Headquarters all at once. Based on damage to public facilities, this was the 5th largest state disaster in U.S. history. With the somewhat precarious locations of important governmental structures, Cedar Rapids seemed to be living on the edge, toeing the thin line between success and demise. As with any developing city, waterfront access was beneficial in more ways than one. The Cedar River, a tributary to the great Mississippi River, served as both a mode of transportation and an integral avenue of commerce in addition to functioning simply as an aesthetic bonus to the surrounding community. As positive as the river was for the growth of Cedar Rapids, the 2008 Flood came to prove that it wouldn’t take much to cross that dangerous line. Iowa State University meteorologist Elwynn Taylor claimed that the warm wet air of the 20072008 winter season, the type of air that produces significant snowfall, was directly correlated with the excessive wetness of the spring of 2008. He continued to explain:
Fog in the winter is normally the result of a strong flow of warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, which normally does not occur in the winter. Usually that occurs in March and April. It’s caused by either low pressure over New Mexico or high pressure over Bermuda. Both are common in the summer. Both are rare in the winter. More than 80 percent of moisture that falls in the Midwest is from the Gulf of Mexico, and the primary cause of it coming here is the Bermuda high pressure. The pressure arrived very early and much stronger than usual by April and May 2008.
In addition to the increased tension of a now limited water supply, there was an obvious spike in the homeless population as nearly 20,000 citizens were displaced from their homes. Only a select few could be accommodated by the limited supply of FEMA trailers. Without the necessary funding for adequate relief, many people spent the three weeks following the flood making temporary shelters among the wreckage. As the waters receded, tremendous amounts of potentially infectious debris surfaced, including tons of accumulated garbage and dead animal carcasses. The endlessness of the debris coupled with the heat and humidity of the summer provided an environment
All it took was one uncharacteristic winter season to bring about $5.74 billion in damages. At the peak of the flood, water levels crested at 31.11 ft, approximately 19 ft above flood stage. And the timing couldn’t have been worse. Such a wide-reaching natural disaster coupled with the country’s simultaneous economic recession left the city of Cedar Rapids with inadequate relief funds. The universal community message put together by a team of local marketing, communication and media professionals states that “Cedar Rapids has suffered a disaster in the billions and only received funding in the millions.” Even now, almost three years after the fact, Cedar Rapids has yet to get back on it’s feet. After the initial flooding, the city was faced with a myriad of health concerns, the most pressing of which being the compromise of their domestic water supply. The Cedar Rapids water treatment facility had been knocked out of service, which resulted in close to 25 million gallons of raw sewage being dumped into the river on a daily basis. All but one of the city’s wells had been overtaken by floodwaters, waters contaminated with the aforementioned sewage as well as leaked petroleum products and a variety of other toxic materials that had been swept up and spread around over the course of the month that affected areas were submerged. Only through a vigorous sandbagging effort perpetuated by members of the community had the city managed to maintain control over their sole source of clean water. Water Pollution Control would not recover for another 12 weeks.
dangerously conducive to the breeding of mold and bacteria and the residual onset of disease. The amount of displaced waste was so great that over a year later there were still reports of trash and debris littering the streets. In order to accommodate it all, the city was forced to reopen a landfill they had previously closed, citing that otherwise the new one would be filled in “one fell swoop.”Refrigerators filled with rotting food and decomposing animal carcasses were host to festering bacteria and soon enveloped the city in a noticeable stench of decay. Contact with polluted water gave way to skin rashes and in some cases dysentery. In an effort to combat such a
NOVEMBER 2011 |15
Help the struggling
survivors meet... make ends
multitude of threats to public health, the major hospitals and clinics worked together to provide over nine thousand free tetanus shots. In addition to the physical afflictions brought about by such extreme conditions, many of those who were flooded out developed mental health issues. The loss of personal possessions, items of family history and the like, resulted in consequential depression for some people, which occasionally lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. The flooding disaster was so extreme that the financial cost exceeded the ability of the state to adequately recover. Where the recession rendered the government unable to provide relief, the citizens of Iowa stepped up to the plate. Without jobs or homes to answer to, men, women, and children banned together and devoted themselves to the comforting and assistance of one another in any way that they possibly could. “While many people around the nation were fighting for individual economic relief, Cedar Rapids citizens voluntarily passed a sales tax increase that was expected to bring in millions of dollars a year,” millions of dollars that would go toward closing the gap between what was needed and what had been provided to rebuild. Citizens even tapped into their personal funds with full knowledge that they would not be reimbursed. The Cedar Rapids City Council made promises to purchase approximately 1,300 damaged houses and business before they had the $175 million necessary for such an undertaking. In doing so, they pledged to help the thousands of struggling survivors make ends meet in the wake of unimaginable devastation. News crews put together media kits that aired on national television, desperately
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appealing to the nation. Websites went up with personal accounts and statistics in an effort to get as much of their story out as possible. As time has passed and word has gotten out, Cedar Rapids has made great strides toward the future. The revamping of service organizations, such as the local branch of Habitat for Humanity, has expedited relief efforts and seen significant results in reinstating housing communities throughout the region as well as providing resources for the repair and upkeep of homes and buildings that may have survived. The government still hasn’t met the projected $5.74 billion needed for complete recovery, but they’ve currently conceded $848 million, earning the Iowa Flood of 2008 the title of the 6th largest national disaster as declared by FEMA. The city appears to be stabilizing, which might actually hurt them more than help. Chuck Hammond of the local lip balm production company, Raining Rose, says: My biggest concern, candidly, is that DC has lost us, we’re off the face of the map because we’ve ‘recovered,’ and at the same time we’re not recovered. Because we were so strong in the early stages, I think there’s a presumption that it’s kinda behind us. But we’re just getting started. There are still entire neighborhoods full of empty houses that have been condemned to demolition. City Hall, the Linn County Courthouse and the county jail buildings remain desolate on Mays Island, unable to be reoccupied. However, Cedar Rapids is a resilient city, one that remains optimistic of its future. With so many renovations and reconstructions, there have been a surplus of job openings that have greatly benefited the displaced working community. The plans to secure “a vibrant and urban hometown” have been set into motion and all citizens are in
agreement–it’s time to move forward. But what does the future hold? Flood experts have spoken to the potential for future devastation akin to the Flood of 2008. According to them, it’s not a matter of “if,” it’s a matter of “when.” Apart from reconstructing the city’s urban landscape, citizens and government officials alike have sounded off on the need to address the preventative measures defined by the “outdated Army Corps of Engineers model that says there is little to fear.” Unfortunately, the unity that saw Cedar Rapidians through the worst of it all has dissipated and politics have clouded the ability to agree upon a solid solution. Todd Dorman, a writer for the Cedar Rapids Gazette expresses his sentiments: I was here for the real disaster. The big one. I, like many of us, marvelled at the initial, selfless response by a united community. And I’ve seen an arduous recovery that’s shaken away our early resolve and sparked plenty of anger. Old divides widened. New ones cracked open. We’ve been exposed to the failures, limitations and lapses of democratically elected governments from City Hall to the White House. Our trust has been shaken and our institutions damaged in ways that most communities, luckily, never endure. It’s no wonder that so many people look upon nearly every decision with seething skepticism. I’m, too, but I’m also certain about one thing: Another massive flood will not make this better. And so the fate of their city remains up in the air. Until they can reclaim the resolve instilled in them in the early throes of tragedy, the citizens of Cedar Rapids cannot know how secure their future is. In lieu of the endless bickering and stagnation in legislation, one can only hope that the city rallies to their own defense before the unthinkable happens. Again. Works Cited: Corbett, Ron. “Flood of 2008 Facts and Statistics.” Cedar Rapids: City of Five Seasons. City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Web. // Dorman, Todd. “The Tantalizing Prospect of Moving On.” The Gazette. 24 April 2011. Web. // Willis, Cassie. Cedar Rapids Flood Story. City of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Aug. 2009. Web. // “Cedar Rapids, IA Flood of 2008.” Associated Press. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. June 2008. Television. Transcript.
How you can help. Check this out! According to the Iowa Recovery Times, “the Rebuild Iowa Office (RIO) has been working with Iowa’s communities to promote planned events for the one-year commemoration of last summer’s storms, tornadoes and flooding.”
For more information visit rio.iowa.gov *
“Although this is a disaster of incredible magnitude, it is also an opportunity for us to build safer, stronger and smarter. [The Rebuild Iowa Coordinating] Council will be a very important vehicle to move the disaster recovery process forward and accomplish the goals of synchronization and coordination, while improving and changing the recovery process along the way.” * –RIO Executive Director Lt. Gen. Ron Dardis
*“IowaRecoveryTimes.”icgov.org.TheRebuildIowa Office, May 2009. Web.
NOVEMBER 2011 |17
Separation Link every
Written by Isabel Kent / Illustrated by Maureen McGinn
To give, support, and to empathize, are all wonderful acts of generosity. What triggers us to act upon the kindness of our hearts? According to this insightful analysis, there is a scientific explanation for the actions and feelings towards another person.
We know that humans are at once imperfect and magnificent. What is difficult is accepting the imperfect as inevitable, and forgiving it in ourselves so that we can forgive it in others. There is so much sameness, if we decide to become aware of it. Our genetic code, which means our basic anatomical structure, which means our physiological functions, are fundamentally identical. We have the capacity to empathize with one another, and we need to use this.
“My guess is that much of the wealthy are so adapted to their way of living that they aren’t aware of the vast struggles of the impoverished.” What I am saying is obviously nothing new. But the act that it has survived thus far in the course of human civilization only serves to testify to its solidarity. It is simple, but I think it has profound implications. In all the world’s major religions, the basic tenet, the “Golden Rule,” is the same. We should “Do unto others what we would have done unto us.” Although this is drawn from religion and may seem idealistic, its tenets are at base, human, and extend to the nature of our experience in everyday life. For example, how can we expect others to have respect for our own views if we do not respect theirs? And how can we expect to get anything out of a conversation if we do not try to understand what the other person is trying to get across? A sense of empathy, as current research in neuroscience and psychology is finding, really does permeate our lives. Without having to will a conscious decision, we register the body language and facial expressions of those around us. We are able to base this in our own experience and realize the analogous intentions behind the behavior of others. So what happens when empathy ceases to function? On an individual scale, this
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can be a major component of arguments and physical fights. Cases in point are bullying, whether at school or over the internet, domestic violence, and gang violence. Among larger groups this is exhibited in similar ways, largely as prejudice against, and mistreatment and/or suppression of, another people. Extreme cases are genocide and war. Can’t these be seen as large-scale manifestations of the inability to take another’s perspective? I don’t mean to oversimplify these grand issues. There are certainly various other complications that come into play. Many of these complications, however, could be explained as themselves arising partially as a consequence of lack of understanding between people. Circumstances like these coalesce and build upon each other, eventually forming one mass conflict, which then leads to further atrocities. A clash occurs when we see an individual or group as other than ourselves, that we disagree with so fervently that it appears foreign enough to be designated as wrong or even evil. To protect ourselves we often feel the need to do something to suppress that other. If these notions push further into action, physical harm is done. The thoughts themselves however, are already silently germinating this view of the world. In turn, this obviously impacts the deeds one carries out. If one continues this way, the effects will only multiply. But the human brain is malleable. Biases can be turned around if they are brought to one’s attention. The problem is that maybe reminders are not prevalent in our everyday lives. We may see images of war on the news, but this is
Poverty Thresholds for 2010 Including the Low & Average Income of Families U.S. Census Bureau
50 Income (Thousands of Dollars)
Step back and look at the world. It is such a strange thing, and incredible and beautiful, but rolling across that great sphere is also turmoil. Much of existence, perceived through the eyes of a human, is sorrow and violence, manifesting itself in multitudes of particular guises - war, poverty, famine, prejudice, crime, etc. But we are stuck here. So, for the sake of being here, of living, how do we make it better? How do we go about diminishing these problems? Where can we possibly start? Underlying most of them, when the complications and differences are for the moment, stripped away, is something simple. For whatever reason, amidst the accumulated confusion of contemporary human life, we fall into the denial or hatred of another human being.
45 40 35 30 25 20 15 3 4 5 6 7 Number of Family Members
“If the wealthy were made to live like the poor, or to just experience a small part of such a life, perhaps they would realize how awful it could be.” perhaps not specific enough. We still watch through our own tinted lenses, maybe as a proponent of one or the other of the conflicting sides. What should be emphasized is the nature of the core disagreement, how and why it exists, perhaps that it should not exist, and what the resolution may be. We also need to be made more aware of our own slant and the perspective we are missing in our repertoire. Once we can see all involved outlooks more holistically, we notice their inherent sameness, and the ensuing ridiculousness of antagonism. To illustrate a concrete example of a social issue involving the inability to take on another perspective, consider the rift between the wealthiest and poorest classes in the United States. My guess is that much of the wealthy are so adapted to their way of living that they aren’t aware of the vast struggles of the impoverished. They must know that the poor do in fact exist, but they cannot put themselves in that situation, because they have never been there and do not relate to it experientially, and they also probably feel no reason to make attempts to do so. They are so comfortable where they are. Whatever charities may be goading them to donate are just an annoyance. The thought of taking on the vantage of the poor does not cross their mind, at least not with any great urgency. And frankly, it would just be too much effort. But if something were to make them, imagine the impact it could have. If the wealthy were made to live like the poor, or to just experience a small part of such a life, perhaps they would realize how awful it could be. To know that they personally would not want to be in a position of poverty may be enough for them to conclude that since there are other humans that are in that place, they need to be helped. The prior example becomes an issue of human rights. Throughout the world, the poor lack many basic entitlements of life because they are bound by their circumstances. In extreme conditions, there is lack of adequate shelter and nourishment to even stay alive. When the pressure of mortality is so present, anything beyond the necessities of life must seem frivolous.Furthermore, although it varies depending on the specific location, opportunities in jobs, education, and all areas of life, are in scarce supply. Law and justice may be seen as concepts created for the purpose of treating all equally in discernment of right or
wrong action, in protecting individuals from mistreatment, and overall, to keep human society as a whole in order and running smoothly. But they are also founded on an emotional groundwork. Humans are innately social, require contact with others for health and well being, and have built society based on the ability to operate in a network. For this to function properly, cooperation between people is essential. And in order for this to occur, we need to at least have respect for the views of others. This is not to say that it will be perfect. Dilemmas will inevitably arise. The paradox is that once we acknowledge human imperfection, the dilemmas are much less common. Throughout this entire process, empathy aids us. In 2009, President Obama propounded the qualifications he deemed necessary for successors to the Supreme Court. He included everything one might expect: extensive legal experience, a spotless ethical record, and dedication to the rule of law. However, Obama also added empathy. I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives, whether they can make a living and care for their families, whether they feel safe in their homes and welcome in their own nation. I view that quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles, as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes. When a predicament comes to the fore, empathy helps us determine a just solution. Yes, we do have to rely on written law as a solid standard, but we also must be considerate of the circumstances under which the individuals involved acted. Maybe someone acted wrongly, did something that is illegal, it was because they were facing such
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“The nature of how we view and interact with others has directed culture, politics, economics, and human society as a whole, which also extends to our impact on the environment.” plight, that for them at that time, it was the best decision. We need to be understanding of this. A person who may endanger others cannot be dismissed, but they also cannot be punished for being human. In all cases, beyond categorization of wronged and wrong-doer, and because all of us are really both, we need to be able to see an individual’s suffering and act out of compassion in an effort to correct it. This in itself serves to connect. In it is a realization that we are all human and that we all share the same life. The nature of how we view and interact with others has directed culture, politics, economics, and human society as a whole, which also extends to our impact on the environment. All of these things provide us with a striking image of how we participate in and create our world. This web of interrelationships has biological foundations, into which current studies surrounding the nature of the human nervous system have brought new insights. A region toward the front of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex, or MPFC, activates when we are pondering our own feelings, but also when we are thinking about or observing those same feelings in another. More specifically, a class of cells called mirror neurons, which are located in various areas of the brain, have been found to direct our ability to read not only another person’s actions, but also the intentions and emotions behind them. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma credited with some of the first research of these structures in the 1990s, was quoted in saying, “We are exquisitely social creatures. Our survival depends on understanding the actions, intentions, and emotions of others. Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation.” Here is very real evidence of just how connected we are. In a sense we can simultaneously experience the thoughts and actions of another. This also poses the intimate connectivity of thought, action, and language. These cells fire when one performs an action, sees another carrying out that action, hears it happening, says the word for that action, or hears that word. Mirror neurons can be seen as
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Every Separation is a Link
the meeting place of these different avenues, which all allow for understanding between people, and are essentially linked as a means of communication whose framework is emotional. It is also important to note that social emotions like shame, pride, embarrassment, and so on, are centered in a uniquely human mirror neuron system in a brain region called the insula. In a study conducted by Dr. Christian Keysers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, it was found that when people watched a hand go to caress someone and then saw another hand push it away, this region registered the pain of rejection. Moreover, he noted that humiliation appeared to be “mapped in the brain by the same mechanisms that encode real physical pain” This just goes to show us that when someone is suffering from emotional trauma, they are also really ailing from physical distress. When mirror neurons malfunction, an emotional level of communication ceases to occur.
“Humans are innately social, require contact with others forhealthand well being, and have a built society based on the ability to operate in a network.” It is now thought that this is a major cause of Autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Autistic individuals are often cited as sort of living in their own world, or being highly antisocial. It could be that the neural basis of social abilities is lacking, and they therefore are significantly unable to relate to other people. Studies show that these individuals can identify an emotional facial expression, and even imitate it, but they do not feel its emotional significance. A similar effect is seen in individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, who are unable to read facial expressions and vocal inflections, recognize sarcasm, and also cannot understand figurative language. They interpret everything logically and literally. For individuals with either disorder, everyday life is made extremely difficult simply since they cannot adequately relate socially and emotionally to other people. The importance of empathy is apparent. It lends us the competence to recognize that other viewpoints must be just as valid as our own. Scientific research has provided us with more clues as to how and why this phenomenon operates, and has given us greater insight into how incredible this biological capacity truly is. The complexity and social grounding of our empathy is something uniquely human. It lies behind much of our daily decisions and behavior, and is one of the key components of how we have developed as a society. Truly, it needs to exist for us
to exist. All of this serves to remind us of empathy’s profundity. But what teaches us most is the face-to-face encounter in which we share a real and fathomless humanness with another. Works Cited: Blakeslee, Sandra. “Cells That Read Minds”. The New York Times.// Boroditsky, Lera “Empathy and Other Mysteries” American Scholar.//Garret, Major. “Obama Pushes for ‘Empathetic’ Supreme Court Justices”. FoxNews.com.// DeVajas-Walt, Carmen. “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010”. Census.gov.