Woah! I found the interpathy article dense and provocative. I’m sure I’ve not been able to absorb fully yet, but my initial impressions are very favorable. I feel like the author was basically saying that therapists and pastoral counselors today have “assumed” empathy without really doing the hard work of recognizing the effort and intentionality required to offer true intercultural empathy. We have done a little, patted ourselves on the back, and assumed an aire of expertise about the whole thing, when really we are woefully inadequate for the task as it currently stands.

I was very moved by Augsburger’s contextualization of non-violent revolutions (moving toward greater intercultural empathy) vs the shift of 9/11 (moving away from intercultural empathy). I have seen exactly what he mentioned occurring in our society, especially in the current racial unrest and immigration debate in the U.S.: “Advocating empathy for the Other was seen as mollifying; comprehending an alternate world perspective became appeasing; compassion was regarded as dulcifying—who was listening to the practitioners of empathy? Who risked this practice of creative imagination called “interpathy?” The hope that humankind was growing in its practice of inter-, trans-, cross-, and supra-cultural intuition into the Other has waned, and even our best efforts have had limited success.”

I believe this is a big part of the cultural divide currently plaguing the US, even within our own families. Not caused by, but signified by, a highly polarizing president, we see how it has become soft, almost taboo, to voice empathy toward those who “hate” us, or those whom we believe hate us. I believe Augsburger is right that training ourselves toward interpathy is a generational challenge–we all have to re-learn these lessons over and over again. And we have to overcome the temptation to take the easy route of vilifying the other rather than getting to know them.

I was also impressed with Augsburger’s delineation of the opportunities of post-modernity to re-think and embrace the “other.”

“… when one crosses over and comes back, moving from one culture to another and returns home wide-eyed: the disorientation becomes creative confusion, the challenge to familiar meta-narratives is freeing, the absence of certainty turns into a call to authentic faith, language becomes renewed, boundaries melt, and the Other is seen with new clarity.”

I love the idea that “disorientation” can be reframed as “creative confusion.” Rather than assume we have all the answers and that our cultural lens is “The” cultural lens, this post-modern framework frees me to embrace the lack of answers, to seek alternative perspectives, and to put myself in the position of learner instead of the one who has to already know everything.

What a refreshing approach to empathy! I will hold onto this perspective, as I believe it to have great insight for our current cultural and intercultural challenges … not to mention my clinical practice.