In my previous blog I wrote among other things about how our youngest are adepts at using their nonpareil imaginative skills to become ever more empathetic — and how adults best can continue to cultivate this capacity if they read widely and deeply, especially from the well of world literature.
In that regard, I ended my blog, If we look at our Commander in Chief’s professed disdain for reading, it would not be an unfair stretch to surmise that this has been a critical contributing factor to his demonstrated lack of empathy.
I ask myself: when did Donald Trump’s moral imagination become so wilted and rotten? At what point in his life did it begin to wither on the vine?
Because when it comes to moral imagination, we start out our lives with droves of it.
Even those children and youth living in the most demeaning circumstances have enormous hearts for others and demonstrate a decided capacity for being doyens and virtuosos at moral imagination — and if they could, they would put their imaginations into actions for the good of their fellow sufferers.
Here’s a bit of what I say on the subject in my The Philosophy of Childing, when I note that National Book Award-winning journalist Katherine Boo attests to this capacity in even the most impoverished children in Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which chronicles the lives of slum-dwellers in Mumbai, India.
Boo relates how she was “continually struck by the ethical imaginations of young people, even in circumstances so desperate that selfishness would be an asset.” If such children ostensibly lose this capacity as they grow older, Boo believes it’s because they “have little power to act on those imaginations.” But she stresses that this does not in any way indicate that they have in fact become uncaring. Rather, they still “felt the loss of life acutely…. What appeared to be indifference to other people’s suffering … had a good deal to do with conditions that had sabotaged their innate capacity for moral action.” They cannot do what comes naturally to them, cannot reach out to others and alleviate their suffering, any more than they can ease their own. This sense of impotence runs up hard against their inborn desire to be of service.
According to the distinguished feminist philosopher and social activist Martha Nussbaum, if we lose our “tragic sense of compassion for people who unequally suffer the misfortunes of life—including both those who remain good and those who turn to the bad—we are in danger of losing our own humanity.”
What the children Katherine Boo encountered show, though, is that those who suffer unequally the misfortunes of life themselves never lose their own tragic sense of compassion for others, no matter how rotten their lives are made by unspeakable wrongs. Yet they refuse to allow their own moral sense to be corrupted or defined by what they witness, or be victimized by the world. They remain good in a world turned, if not altogether bad, then upside down.
There is a widespread misconception perpetuated by emotional intelligence sophisticate Daniel Goleman and other that it is up to us adults to ‘teach’ or ‘coach’ morality to children. Rather, what we need to do is create a world that enables our younger counterparts to cultivate their inborn and unexcelled capacity for moral imagination their whole lives long.
Because by the time we become adults, all too often this capacity is AWOL. Witness the sprawling communities we create with no rhyme or reason, the wars we launch into with little if attempt first to devise creative nonviolent means to resolve conflict — one adult-induced blunder after another is the depressing thread of human history, with our youngest perennially caught in the crosshairs.
My hunch is that if we would join forces with our youngest, tap into their unique capacities in ways that would enable us adults to better tap into our own — if we would allow them to be equal participants in the civic sphere with equal clout — our
Or (pardon the snark) is such a suggestion just too far-fetched for morally unimaginative adults even to entertain?