From Chapter 57 of Future Rising: A Journey from the Past to the Edge of Tomorrow
Scott Warren—a geography teacher in Arizona—ventured into the heat of the Sonoran desert in the summer of 2018 to provide humanitarian aid to migrants crossing the border. It’s a crossing that individuals and families from Mexico and Central America regularly make in the hope of building a better future. Yet with daytime temperatures reaching 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and water all but nonexistent, it’s a journey into a hoped-for future that is fraught with danger. And every year, dozens of people die in the attempt.
Moved by the plight of these migrants, Warren and others were part of a movement that strives to prevent their unnecessary suffering and death. They were driven by a deep sense of identity and humanity, as they pursued a way to alleviate suffering. Unfortunately, however, what they were doing was illegal. As a result, Warren was arrested by Border Patrol agents for providing two migrants with “food, water, clean clothes and beds.” Thankfully, even though his case went to trial, Warren was found not guilty. But he could have been imprisoned for up to twenty years for his actions.
Warren’s case is far from unique when it comes to strangers risking their own future for someone else’s. Along with our
ability to imagine our future and chart a way toward it, we also have a remarkable ability to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and to help them build their own future—even when it means putting ours on the line.
This ability to empathize with others, to viscerally feel what it is like to be in their position, and to be inspired to support them as a result, is deeply ingrained in our psyche. And it’s an ability to see and feel the path between past, present, and future from someone else’s perspective that makes perfect sense at a social level.
Where we have no option but to build a collective future together, empathy provides the impetus to work willingly toward a common goal. Ethics provides us with social rules for living and working together, but it’s empathy, more often than not, that provides us with the motivation to do so.
Empathy forms within us a deeply-embedded instinct for group survival, as it enables people to work together toward a greater good. It allows us to see the future through someone else’s eyes, and to share in their pain and joy as they contemplate their journey toward it—so much so that we derive satisfaction from helping them on their way. And, as we empathize with others, it also helps us to find meaning in the co-creation of a shared future.
Yet empathy, ethics, and morality are not sufficient on their own if we’re to build a future where as many people as possible find meaning and joy. For this, we need to get more specific about what is expected of people and communities on our collective journey. And this means coming to grips with our individual and social responsibility for what lies ahead of us.