Home » Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment in Empathy at TEDxPSU (Full Transcript)

Sam Richards: A Radical Experiment in Empathy at TEDxPSU (Full Transcript)

And then your cousin says “Hey, cuz, check out this website. You got to see this Christian, this Bible Boot Camp. These Christians are nuts. They’re training their little kids to be soldiers for Jesus.” And they take these little kids, and they run them through these things and they teach them how to say “Sir, yes, sir!”, and things like grenade toss, and weapons care and maintenance. And go to the website. It says U.S. Army right on it. I mean these Christians they’re nuts! How would they do this to their little kids? And you’re reading this website and of course Christians back in the United States or anybody says “Aw, this is a little tiny church in the middle of nowhere.” You don’t know that. For you, this is all Christians. It’s all over the web — Bible Boot Camp. And look at this. They even teach their kids. They train them in the same way the U.S. Marines train. Isn’t that interesting? And it scares you and it frightens you.

So these guys? You see them? You see I, Sam Richards, I know who these guys are. They’re my students, my friends. I mean I know what they’re thinking. You don’t know. When you see them they’re something else. They’re something else. That’s what they are to you. We don’t see it that way in the United States. But you see it that way?

So here. Of course, you got it wrong. You’re generalizing, it’s wrong. You don’t understand the Americans. It’s not a Christian invasion. We’re not just there for oil. We’re there for lots of reasons. I mean, you have it wrong. You’ve missed it. And of course most of you don’t support the insurgency, you don’t support killing Americans, you don’t support the terrorists. Of course you don’t. Very few people do. But some of you do? And this is a perspective.

Okay, so now, so here’s what we’re going to do. Step outside of your shoes that you’re in right now and step back into your normal shoes, so everyone’s back in the room, okay?

Now here comes the radical experiment. So we’re all back home. This photo. This woman? Man, I feel her. I feel her. She’s my sister, my wife, my cousin, my neighbor, she’s anybody. These guys standing there, everybody in the photo? I feel this photo, man.

So here’s what I want you to do. Let’s go back to my first example of the Chinese, okay? So I want you to go there, so it’s all about coal and the Chinese are here in the United States. And I want you to picture her as a Chinese woman receiving a Chinese flag because her loved one has died in America in the coal uprising. And the soldiers are Chinese and everybody else is Chinese. Okay? As an American, how do you feel about this picture? What do you think about that scene?

Okay, try this. Bring it back. This is the scene, here. It’s an American, American soldiers, American woman who lost her loved one in the Middle East, in Iraq or Afghanistan? Now put yourself in the shoes, go back to the shoes of an Arab Muslim living in Iraq. What are you feeling and thinking about this photo, about this woman?

Okay, now follow me on this. Because I’m taking a big risk here. And so I’m going to invite you to take a risk with me, okay?

Okay so these gentlemen here, they’re insurgents. They were caught by the American soldiers trying to kill Americans. And maybe they succeeded. Maybe they succeeded? Put yourself in the shoes of the Americans who caught them. Can you feel the rage? Can you feel that you just want to take these guys and wring their necks? I mean, can you go there? It shouldn’t be that difficult. You know you just feel, “Aw, man!”

Okay, now, put yourself in their shoes. Are they brutal killers or patriotic defenders? Which one? Can you feel their anger, their fear, their rage at what has happened in their country? Can you imagine that maybe one of them in the morning bent down to their child and hugged their child and said, “Dear, I’ll be back later. I’m going out to defend your freedom, your lives. I’m going out to look out for us, the future of our country.” Can you imagine that? Can you imagine saying that? Can you go there? What do you think they’re feeling? You see that’s empathy. It’s also understanding.

Now, you might ask, “Okay, Sam, so why do you do this sort of thing? Why would you use this example of all examples?” And I say because you’re allowed to hate these people. You’re allowed to just hate them with every fiber of your being. And if I can get you to step into their shoes and walk in inch, one tiny inch, then imagine the kind of sociological analysis that you can do in all other aspects of your life. You can walk a mile when it comes to understanding why that person is driving 40 miles per hour in the passing lane, or your teenage son, or your neighbor who annoys you by cutting his lawn on Sunday mornings. Whatever it is, you can go so far — and this is what I tell my students. Step outside of your tiny little world. Step inside of the tiny little world of somebody else. And then do it again, and do it again, and do it again and suddenly all of these tiny little worlds they come together in this complex web and they build a big complex world. And suddenly without realizing it you’re seeing the world differently. Everything has changed. Everything in your life has changed. And that’s of course what this is about.

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