In the early 20th Century, the iconic poet, Gertrude Stein, penned the now famous, phrase, “A rose is a rose.” Our own nuanced understanding, of what otherwise might appear to be an enigmatic statement, is that she was declaring the ultimate aesthetic beauty of the flower, such that no metaphor, or descriptive choice of words would be adequate or sufficiently accurate.
We, too, share the metaphysical belief that there are some phenomena, in man’s wide range of experience, whether, aesthetic or contemptable, desirous or reprehensible, which are the ultimate in their respective category, or in conception, so unique, that their essence or meaning cannot be verbally replicated.
The principle, that certain phenomena or concepts cannot be verbally replicated, is especially applicable to many words in our American-English lexicon, either because they are stated in the superlative, and cannot be further enhanced (like “very” excellent), or, that their intrinsic nature does not lend itself to an adequate alternative. Our such “word du jour,” is the exceptionally admirable concept, “empathy.”
Empathy, may perhaps be acceptably defined as, the capacity to understand and feel what another person is experiencing, from within one’s frame of reference; it is the human capacity, not merely to understand and sympathize, but to be able to place oneself in another’s shoes. We have previously written on the subject of this noble quality, see: for example, “Love Without Words.”
The phenomenon of empathy, like that of love, loyalty and creative aesthetics, are among the most admirable, non-skeletal advances in mankind’s natural evolution. The development and continuance of such capabilities, have historically, contributed potential for man’s higher plane of societal and individual life; one, beyond the basic survivalist drives for food, water, shelter and safety.
On a beautiful day, recently, we were driving upstate to visit a friend. The early promise of Spring was in evidence in the air and sunlight, moderate temperatures were prevalent, and the ground’s melting, residual snow, was candidly revealing the early stages of the annual flora resurrection. We noticed high altitude, reconnoiting hawks, as well as a number of rodentia and other small ground dwelling critters, pursuing cover, in this perennial game of survival.
At one point, we reached a modest curve in the roadway and when easily negotiated, we observed through the windshield, several modestly attractive residences, one of which featured a large, commercially made sign, strategically affixed to a post on its front lawn; the advertised language of which was, to us, no less than positively bizarre. The sign advertised: “School for Empathy” The large, intentionally conspicuous sign, was located front and center, probably as a “savvy” marketing strategy.
We are still non-plussed by the absurdity and evident ignorance of the sign. However, we were at first entertained by its absurdity, then annoyed, at the ignorance unashamedly broadcast to the public, by the nature and description of the advertised business. We, among other things, attempted to envision the specific homeowners and their family, nonchalantly, passing to and fro, in front of such sign, the mystery of neighborhood consent on that busy street, the nature of the patrons, the didactic background of the instructors and administration, the nature of the textbooks, term papers, final exams, grade criteria, the length of semester, whether there was fieldwork, the established criteria for graduation, the professional use to which the successful graduates are expected to apply such rarefied learning, and whether graduate degrees and/or employment opportunities are made available to specially deserving alumni.
How can it be at all, rationally possible, albeit the general ignorance and low level of education, manifested by so many of our disappointing citizens, that such an Alice in Wonderland project, can, sanely, exist on planet Earth (inclusive of upstate New York) wherein an “educational” organization (presumably, employing a faculty of “Mad Hatters”) is dedicated to the belief that the precious, entirely innate virtues of homo sapiens, such as kindness, love and empathy, can be transmitted by instruction.
Still, it was not April Fool’s Day and, to our great astonishment, we did, in fact, see the permanently installed sign, and continue to wonder, whether the advertised, ambitious and enterprising school administration, also offers, far more relevantly appropriate, academic courses, on “shame.”