Weekly round-up: understanding the lives of others
“LIFE CYCLES OF INEQUITY”: That’s the name of a series of Colorlines videos and articles on the stages of life for Black men. The segments go from high school to fatherhood, and in between cover everything from making culture to finding work to dealing with in the criminal justice system. It’s an impressive series that looks at the challenges Black men face, and the strength and creativity they bring to life. It’s also an interesting way to look at the life cycles of any given individual Black man, by looking at several Black men and boys at different ages. An alternate way to explore this issue might be to tell the story of one Black man at various stages of life.
The project reminds me of an ingenious episode of the This American Life television program that sought to tell the story of one life, “told through the lives of seven people all over the country who have one thing in common: they’re all named John Smith.” The first story was of an 11-week-old baby in South Carolina, the next is of a 23-year-old rancher in Wyoming, then a 46-year-old father in Texas, and so on.
“CAN WE TEACH EMPATHY?” So asks activist, educator and oral history interviewer Alisa del Tufo in a new blog post for Voice of Witness. “Today, we understand that human beings are actually wired for empathy, with vast networks of neuro-transmitters and mirror neurons supporting positive connections. However, our capacity for empathy is as much the result of our experience and practice as it is of our genetic makeup.” She looks at some practical ways that educators can nurture empathy, such as by creating a “safe space,” promoting “deep listening,” making room for “reciprocity,” helping people understand the “continuity” or context of stories, and linking stories to “action.”
“THE HUMAN LAWYER”: “The human lawyer remembers that all abstract policy debates are about real people,” writes Alec Karakatsanis in a 2010 article for the N.Y.U. Review of Law and Social Change that I came across recently. The article describes a human-centered approach to the practice of law, which narratives have more power in the legal system than others, and how lawyers can absorb the experiences of their clients and themselves to do their jobs better. The author is co-founder, with Phil Telfeyan, of Equal Justice Under Law, an organization that uses “litigation and advocacy to reform the structures, norms, and incentives that create and perpetuate violations of fundamental rights.” Its first cases challenged Alabama’s debtor prisons, Alabama’s sex offender registry laws, and the “home invasion” practices of Washington, DC police.