Empathy is best described as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Seeing yourself, or other things/issues, the way other people do is very important. It’s especially important when you’re in a position of power over people who have no way to fight back against you if you start abusing that power.
In this scenario, the United States is in a position of near limitless power. We can go anywhere in the world and fuck-up basically anyone’s shit. We can do this through trade sanctions (Cuba, Iran), through military invasion (Iraq, Afghanistan), or, lately, drone strikes (Yemen). We’re basically invincible, and we too often don’t use this power we have wisely. We use it…well, here’s an example from John Oliver about how we use it.
Imagine what the USA looks like to people from outside the country. They don’t see the loving, caring nation that’s there to help other countries in times of crisis. They see the big, terrified bully nation; willing to kill anyone to create an illusion of safety.
And it’s that “illusion” part that’s important. If you think our involvement, especially with drone strikes, in the greater Middle East is something that makes us safer at home, you are seriously delusional. All we too often do is kill innocent people, thus generating future terrorists, thus making us less safe.
I’m not saying we’re always wrong to use our power. Trade sanctions have proven totally useless in Cuba, but they’ve done quite a bit in Iran to get them to the negotiating table. And while drone strikes have likely killed scores, if not hundreds, of innocent people, I’m sure they’ve probably also killed a great many dangerous people who had terror on their minds.
But we’re a little too free in using that power, and we don’t use it in the best ways. When 3,000 innocent people were killed on 9/11, we responded with two wars that have killed over 100,000 people and destroyed two countries (not incidentally creating the power vacuum that ISIS is now filling). In the process, you can bet we created far more would-be terrorists than we killed, and that’s far from a good thing.
As I said above, I’m not saying we should never use our great power, but we really, really need to stop and think about whether or not we always need to, and if there might be better ways to accomplish what we want.