If there were a fire and in the fire there was one baby and a crate of a hundred fertilized embryos, which would you save if you could only save one?
Meant to be inflammatory, this question has stuck with me for several weeks because it shines a light on the truth. We would save the baby. I don’t know a single pro-lifer who would say they would save the embryos. That’s not to say that person doesn’t exist, just that the person who would save the embryos is in a small minority even among pro-lifers. Right now the American people are asking themselves why the other side doesn’t care. Why don’t Trump voters care about refugees/immigrants, healthcare, the lives of African Americans? Why don’t Democrat’s care about abortion, small businesses or higher taxes on the middle class? The answer to those questions is in the answer to the first. Many political pro-lifers claim that life begins at conception and that that life is just as precious and in want of protection as a baby’s, so why would they save the one baby and not the embryos?
All lives matter people would say that an African American life is just as precious and in want of protection as a white American.
Many Trump voters would say that an immigrant life is just as precious and in want of protection as a American life.
That a gay life is just as precious and in want of protection as a straight life.
That a trans life is just as precious and in want of protection as a cis life.
Why is it said, but when pressed it’s not true? Why wouldn’t we save the embryos? Why would we excuse the mistreatment and murder of black lives by the police? Why would we enact policies that threaten gay families? Why would we prioritize a small number of our countrymen’s lives over thousands and thousands of refugees? Why would we save the baby? Because we can hear it’s cry.
Our capacity for empathy is limited to what we can see and hear. We can’t hear an embryo suffer, but a baby can cry and those cries can haunt us. It’s why cities are more liberal and tend to vote more for the interest of neighbors of all colors, orientations, and statuses. They can hear the cries of their neighbors because they look them in the eye everyday. It’s also why much of white America and Trump voters tend to vote against the rights of these groups, they don’t know them. It feels like a risk, that far off story of an immigrant killing or hurting an American citizen. That is what feels real because they can hear that cry.
I’ve spent the last 12-15 years of my life expanding the range of my hearing. It started with mission trips, and intimate relationships with immigrants and expanded to deep listening of stories from people of all colors and many races. It’s why I care, because I hear their cries. Lately I’ve been trying to think of ways to show that to other people, to get them to care. How do I teach my children that all lives are equally precious, but not all are equally in need of protection? How do I help other people care about the refugees pouring into our borders? About the hundreds of thousands who declare bankruptcy each year because of medical bills? About dreamers, and addicts, and black teenagers? I don’t think I can. Each person has to be willing to listen and it’s harder to hear those cries when they aren’t in your language. It’s harder to hear them from far away. We like big houses and open land and I am no exception, but these things can distance us from other people’s realities and the more space we have around us, the farther we have to be willing to travel to hear their cries. I’ll take my children, but the rest is out of my control and it’s time I start accepting that. It doesn’t do let those cries hollow you out and leave a useless husk, and I simply can’t care for other people, they have to start caring for others on their own. As for me, I’ll keep their pictures on my fridge next to the ones of my family and listen to their cries. I’ll try to think of them as mine. I hope it grows my empathy.
*The featured picture is of me, my mom and dad with a group of people in Venezuela. Several of these people are now refugees or have simply fled the country out of necessity.