‘If people do not learn enough from what happens to others, they learn too much from what happens to themselves,’ Robert Jervis.
Stephen Walt who blogs at Foreign Policy and is a Professor of IR at Harvard talks about the role of empathy in IR. Walt uses the example of Rice as a lack of empathy during the Iraq war, “As Condi Rice commented when some European governments didn’t support the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, “I’ll just put it very bluntly. We simply didn’t understand it.”
A lack of understanding is something that is very present in Lebanon and in the current electoral rhetoric. I often talk to people who honestly cannot understand why people support the rival to their own leader. Talking to own Aoun supporters, for example, there is complete disbelief as to how anyone could support Geagea/Gemayel/Hariri. While the opposite also applies talking to Geagea supporters, for instance, where there is the same disbelief as to why anyone would support Aoun/Nasrallah. Furthermore, there is no effort to understand, which is different of course than agreeing.
President Sleiman interestingly has placed a lot of weight on empathy in the style of his Presidancy. Taking his latest speech for example Sleiman described his role as being to “protect the constitution, find the most suitable resolutions, and establish balance between contradicting points of view.”
Lebanon could do with a good deal more empathy in its internal politics. The lack of empathy in Lebanese politics can also is explained by Walt’s general rule, “One reason for this absence of empathy is the human tendency to filter current situations through the prism of the past. One of the more enduring findings in political psychology is that people place more weight on their own experiences than on the experiences of others, even when their own experiences are in fact atypical.”
Much of the electoral campaigns going on at the moment in Lebanon come under this rubric. Lebanese political factions on all sides often use a political rhetoric that deliberately removes empathy for their political rivals. I have been told that the problem in Lebanon is that all the confessions in Lebanon the Shia, Sunni, Christians and Druze are fighting for their ‘lives’ leaving no room for empathy. However, if the Lebanese of different backgrounds and political affliation were able to empathise more would we see less international interefernce?