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Alec Baldwin is not a good man.
We can go through his long personal, political, and professional history and document all the ways in which Baldwin has acted in disgusting, horrible fashions. It would take about 50 seconds on Google to come up with enough information to write a 2,000-word piece on the subject.
But this moment is not about Alec Baldwin.
In a horrible incident in New Mexico, on the set of the movie “Rust”, Baldwin apparently fired a prop gun, and some kind of projectile of unknown type was ejected, with horrible consequences: Director of photography Halyna Hutchins, 42, was transported to the hospital via helicopter and pronounced dead by medical personnel at University of New Mexico Hospital, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.
Director Joel Souza, 48, was transported to Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center by ambulance for care. Details on his condition were not released.
The scope of the tragedy is hard to comprehend for the Hollywood community. Hutchins was a well-known cinematographer, and the grieving throughout the industry was seen all over social media. Souza is expected to make a full recovery, and is lucky not to have been more seriously injured.
Baldwin expressed his shock and sadness regarding the tragic events on social media. “There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother, and deeply admired colleague of ours.”
As those closest involved with the incident deal with the repercussions of this tragedy, the public spectacle is one we are all familiar with. Those that despise Baldwin have often been almost gleeful at what has befallen him. Others are simply using the moment to point out the many times Baldwin has failed to show sympathy or empathy to those he dislikes, most famously former Vice President Dick Cheney. Baldwin famously ridiculed Cheney after the Vice President accidentally shot and wounded a friend on a hunting trip (the man survived with minor injuries).
None of this speaks well of civil society in America today. These are the moments that define what type of nation we want to have, and want to aspire to. Our nation remains engulfed in a divisive culture war, with all sides treating Americans they view as the enemy as a ‘foreign’ force that must be politically destroyed and excluded from public life.
Baldwin is clearly not a sympathetic character in this regard. Few have done more to worsen our civil discourse. He has had long-running feuds with numerous conservatives, and his despise for former Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush is public and well known.
This is however when the concept of empathy, sympathy, and grace become most important. When things are well, and people are content, it is far easier to express sympathy to those we not only dislike, but fail to understand. But in times like these, when we are polarized and divided, it becomes extremely difficult to rise above the rancor and anger.
I’ve written about the concepts of empathy and sympathy many times, and especially in regards to our failure to promote these concepts for the greater good of civility in American society. Here is an excerpt from 2018:
When someone tries to display sympathy for another person’s hardships and anguish, it is simply an acknowledgment that we understand what that person is going through, and we simply hope for their quick recovery. In traditional society, the quickest and most common way to demonstrate that heartfelt belief was to send prayers to those that were suffering. Sharing sympathetic thoughts is one significant way in which we experience a greater sense of shared similarities together, and allows for a more profound personal engagement than one would generally have with people under normal situations.
Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to put one’s self into the shoes of another, and to truly understand their point of view. It allows us to come to terms with how others came to make the decision they chose to make, without allowing our own biases to cloud that judgment. So the uniqueness of empathy is that, unlike sympathy, it allows for people to join together and at least attempt to have a shared experience. First and foremost, it involves seeing someone else’s situation from their perspective, and second, sharing their emotions, including their distress.
Most of us cannot truly understand the grief that Halyna Hutchins’ family is going through, nor can we comprehend that devastation and despair that Alec Baldwin is feeling. But we can attempt to be empathetic in trying to understand the devastation caused by this tragic incident.
Baldwin may not be a generous or open-hearted person to those he politically disagrees with, but he is a human with human emotions. And this is a moment in which our common humanity should rise above the anger, rhetoric, and divisiveness that Baldwin, and many of us, have contributed to over the years.
And this is why the concept of grace is so critical to a civil society. Grace, ultimately, is the generous, free and totally unexpected and undeserved understanding of one to another. It is a concept unencumbered by the concept of just deserts, which demands we take ‘an eye for an eye’ as a just punishment for prior injustices.
Grace requires that our sympathetic, empathetic and graceful nature rise above the bad behavior of others. Baldwin probably is undeserving of our empathy. He failed to be graceful when his enemies were in a similar position. But grace requires us to elevate our spirit above and beyond what we would expect of others. Grace requires us to do what we believe is right, even if those we bestow that gift on would not do the same for us.
This is a sacrifice for many of us. It is easy to be mean-spirited and spiteful to those that have behaved that way toward us. Ultimately, however, such a society only damages us all. The true spirit of a truly peaceful and accepting society is one where we forgive, and try to rise above the anger and rancor. And only by acting in this manner can we hope to become a more civil society.Published in