Empathy from Left Field

by Miki Kashtan

I love a good challenge, and Helen Smith’s recent article (“How Should Conservatives Deal with the Left’s Disrespect and Lack of Empathy?”) immediately called my attention. As someone who’s dedicating my life, in part, to increasing empathy all around in the culture, I found some of her comments painful, because they matched my own experience with liberals.

The Missing Empathy for the Right
In the social circles in which I find myself, and in much of the Left media, conservatives are regularly referred to as stupid (at best), backward, uncaring, or unevolved. At every opportunity that I have, especially in my workshops, I invite people to look at what might be the underlying values behind conservative positions, to imagine how a decent fellow human could arrive at such opposing views. I wish I could contradict Helen Smith, but my experience only confirms what she says.

I see a complete dearth of genuine, open-hearted empathy towards conservatives. I regularly hear jokes at the expense of conservatives in my workshops, and I cringe. I am not conservative myself. Far from it! I find most liberals to be more conservative than me. I cringe because if I were a conservative, I would not experience Nonviolent Communication communities as hospitable. I worked for several years with volunteers who are part of the campaign to create a department of peace in the US. They have not been able to cross the Democrat-Republican divide. As I see it, the obstacle was not the Republicans, but rather the challenge these activists had in being able to hear their opponents, listen with respect and care, imagine their values and deeper longings and aspirations, and be open to be affected by what they hear. What is dialogue, after all, if we are expecting others to change their views, positions, or strategies, without a comparable willingness on our part to be affected and changed by what we hear?

(tomorrow – more on cultivating empathy)

8 thoughts on “Empathy from Left Field

  1. Ian Mayes

    Heya Miki, I appreciate reading this. My experience is pretty similar to yours in this area. This leads me to have a few questions for you as well:

    I wonder – do you have personal experience with talking with conservative or Republican individuals or communities?

    Also, I wonder – do you have personal experience with sharing Nonviolent Communication with conservative or

  2. Anonymous


    I was very happy and hopeful to read this. I've been thinking the same thing for a long time but certainly never expressed it as eloquently as you did.

  3. Anonymous

    Miki, I'm glad you are writing about this and remember being in a workshop with you where this came up and since then I have worked at becoming more aware of this when it happens in my workshops and in my life. I really get it.

    Here's something I found interesting when I heard of it: Prior to the last presidential election some liberal friends of mine (who practice NVC) invited

  4. Harlan Johnson

    Hi Miki
    I appreciate your post, and hope to hear more. Myra Walden brought my attention to it.

    My son in law, Nolan, identifies himself as a conservative, and I enjoy attempting to have true dialogue with him. I think I "get it" about how he has chosen to believe and value what he does. (By the way, NVC sometimes equates "values" with "needs," I

  5. Anonymous

    I find it difficult to empathize with conservatives or have any sympathy for them because in my opinion they usually support horrible policies that harm many people and often contribute to destroying the planet.

  6. Kelly

    Why do we need "empathy" for either side?
    I understand and appreciate diversity – something that is being terrorized and swallowed up everyday, but I'm not really on board with the empathy watch for political parties. Respect,yes. Tolerance, yes.
    I see an element in this chaos brewing that very few people talk about outside the context of politics. It has to do with the

  7. Caera

    I would love some support in my own experience with this. I tried a little empathy experiment in my head when I was first learning NVC, imagining some conservative fundie pushing to diminish my personal rights as a lesbian, disabled person (ie unable to compete in a market economy), economically poor person, non-Christian, woman, etc. I ended up getting stuck on "Are you feeling afraid for

  8. miki

    i read with great interest all of the above comments. i am grateful to have stimulated all this conversation.

    i have a couple more thoughts after reading this. first, i want to say that unless you have a lot of practice, it's hard to let go of the content of someone's view on this or that public policy so that we can look at the underlying human needs that fuel that view. and


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