- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2020

June 12, 2020

(Arlington Heights) Daily Herald

Diversifying your environment leads to empathy and healthier society

Empathy is a rare commodity these days.

The ability to understand someone else’s feelings as if they were your own has clearly ebbed in recent years as we’ve become more fractionalized by partisan politics.

What’s more troubling is that many of us have given up on trying to understand where others are coming from.

This is a recipe for disaster.

A lack of empathy is at the heart of the civil rights explosion that has rocked the nation in recent weeks. We’re encouraged by the number and variety of people who are calling for a greater understanding of and appreciation for what it’s like to be black in America.

On the whole, we’re still far too segregated — by geography, by politics, by race, by religion, by age, by gender, by economics — to get to a place of understanding, of empathy.

And we’ll never truly be a healthy society until we challenge ourselves to move in the right direction.

Remove many of those contributing factors — economic differences, religion, etc. — and you have the makings of an interesting sociological experiment.

University of Chicago Neurobiologist Peggy Mason wanted to explore why we feel empathy for some but not others. She decided to study rats.

If a rat saw another rat in distress, would it help the other out?

Mason’s experiment tested rats’ ability to use empathy as a motivation for action, according to a news release from the U of C.

First, would a rat help another rat in distress? Second, would a rat help a rat of another color?

But first, she had to determine whether a rat has the capacity for empathy.

She put one rat in a clear plastic tube and introduced another rat outside the tube. That rat on the outside would put itself in a bad spot in order to help out the one in the tube, her research says, concluding that rates have the capacity for empathy.

The second part of the experiment took a white rat that had never met a black rat to see whether it would help it. It did not.

However, white rats that lived with black rats would help out any rat.

Her conclusion is that some empathy is baked in through biology but also can be shaped by one’s environment.

“I think that the lessons that we’ve learned from the rats are just so wonderful, because what they tell us is that we can control this simply by diversifying our environment, that by interacting with others from a different type, you become affiliated toward any of that type,” Mason said. “Diversity in exposure in interaction is critically important.”

Is there a direct correlation to human behavior? That remains to be seen, but what the rats tell us is surely something to think about.


June 12, 2020

Chicago Sun-Times

A Cubs fan’s dilemma: How to root for the team without rooting for Donald Trump

What are you to do if you’re a fan of the Chicago Cubs but the team’s owners include a guy who’s leading the effort to reelect the most divisive, destructive and incompetent president in modern American history?

We’d say there’s always the White Sox.

In all seriousness, we can think of several understandable reasons to remain a loyal Cubs fan despite that among the team’s owners is Todd Ricketts, finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. Ricketts is spearheading the fundraising effort for President Donald Trump’s re-election.

For one, the Ricketts family as a whole has done a good job of running the Cubs, even if they didn’t do enough to build up the bullpen last year. It’s been awhile since anybody has called them “lovable losers.”

For two, the Cubs as an organization has been a responsible corporate citizen. The company has spent about $1 billion of its own money on renovating Wrigley Field, one of Chicago’s most prized landmarks, and it made a particular effort to hire minority- and women-owned businesses when constructing Hotel Zachary next door. Ninety million dollars in contracts went to Minority Business Enterprise certified businesses.

Cubs President Theo Epstein, speaking for the team, has been saying all the right things, too, in the wake of the protests over the killing in Minnesota of George Floyd. The Cubs will form a “diversity committee,” he said, to improve on issues such as hiring and promoting. Epstein himself is involved in helping Major League Baseball donate money to groups like Black Lives Matter and the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

And, for three, for every Todd Ricketts - or the equally politically noxious patriarch of the family, Joe Ricketts - there’s a Laura Ricketts, a Joe Biden supporter who fights for the rights of gay and transgender people, or a Tom Ricketts, who does his darn best to keep his politics to himself and just wants to have a beer with you at Murphy’s Bleachers.

But you know what? All things are not equal. Todd Ricketts is nonetheless doing a world of bad, working day and night for the reelection of a fraud who’s destroying our country. That great bad is hardly cancelled out by the more honorable ways of his siblings and the Cubs organization.

If it bothers you that a little bit of the money you spend to buy a ticket to a Cubs game eventually makes its way into Todd Ricketts’ pocket, and that from there a little bit makes its way into Trump’s re-election fund, well, it bothers us, too.

American consumers increasingly care about the social values and commitments of the businesses they patronize, and so they should. As long as Todd Ricketts is among the owners of the Cubs, plenty of Cubs fans - or ex-fans - will wonder what they are really rooting for.


June 10, 2020

(Peoria) Journal Star

We’ve had the race conversation before. Will this time be different?

Today’s protesters seem more frustrated, more angry and more committed to ensuring that there will be systemic change before they decide to end their marches.

The problems they are drawing attention to have been around for a long time, yet there has been little progress toward creating a more equitable society in which people of color are treated fairly.

“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. … We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, said those words about 30 years ago. Sadly, they still apply today.

Will we do better?

People across the country in cities in such as Princeville, Pekin, Bloomington and Peoria have been calling for an end to police violence and the systemic racism that afflicts our nation.

George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are just the latest examples of the senseless deaths that have become all too common in the African American community. Living while black is not an easy thing in this country.

We don’t have to look too far back into Peoria’s history to find a time when people of color were excluded from all but the most basic jobs. Graduation rates among black students are woefully inadequate, which means they have little hope and cannot live up to their potential.

Already, those who have never experienced bias because of the color of their skin are growing weary of the protests and asking, “When will it end?”

The question should be: “When will we have a justice system that treats all people the same, no matter their color?”

Most people have been appropriately outraged and have said the right things about standing in solidarity with the black community. Outrage is one thing; appropriate action is another. How will we create positive change and what will it look like?

We’ve been searching for solutions for a long time.

Conversations about race were a hot topic in Peoria just a few years ago when the website 247wallst.com cited the metro region as one of the worst places for African Americans to live. The Journal Star’s “City of Disparity” series that followed put a focus on solutions to reduce disparity and reach equity.

Our commitment as a news organization was - and still is - to keep the conversation going. We need to get to know one another, and we can’t do that unless we talk to one another. We need to know what it’s like to walk in another person’s shoes. For white people, this means listening with humility to people whose life experiences are very different from our own.

Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point and change will come. We can’t afford to be having the same conversation 30 years from now.

Marshall again: “We cannot play ostrich. Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. In the chill climate in which we live, we must go against the prevailing wind. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent from a nation that has buried its head in the sand, waiting in vain for the needs of its poor, its elderly, and its sick to disappear and just blow away. We must dissent from a government that has left its young without jobs, education or hope. We must dissent from the poverty of vision and the absence of moral leadership. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.”

It’s well past time to do better.

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