The recent events have once again re-opened the wounds with which our society has lived with for decades.
As the debate on the recent elections subsided on this site, the debate on the future of Iran has taken its place with full force. Points and counter-points are passionately expressed with certainty and many times with no abashment. Condemnation and combativeness is the order of the day on many days!
I am bewildered as to whether this storm will subside or whether it will culminate in an upheaval that ravages the already strained fiber if Iranian society. The question that is repeatedly asked is whether we have learned anything from our past history and whether we are likely to repeat the same mistakes again.
I know not the answer to this question, but what I do know is that Iranians, more than ever have shown empathy in dealing with each other.
Vicarious empathy is defined as ‘an individual’s response to perceived emotional experiences of others.’ People’s response to the brutal treatment of fellow protestors is an example of vicarious empathy. This is an innate emotional response and is subject to conditioning. This perhaps explains how the persistent conditions of the past three decades have only resulted in two upheavals of note. Imaginative empathy is defined as ‘an individual’s ability to imaginatively take the role of another so as to understand and accurately predict that person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.’ This is more of a cognitive ability and as a nation we have to remove the shackles that have held us back from progress in this regard. It is a prerequisite to civil discourse and ultimately a civil society.
Religion in Iran continues to exert its influence on society both as instrument of oppression and rebellion. While the preservation of current order of religious governance has led to brutal suppression of the the social upheavals in recent weeks, the very same upheavals use religious symbolism (chants of Allah Akbar from roof tops) as its voice of resistance. The belief system of the majority of Iranians to a great extent removes the obligation to develop imaginative empathy. Those in Iran that have broken their ties with religion have also freed themselves to develop cognitively. If imaginative empathy can surpass the influence of religious dogma then there is hope that the mistakes of the past will be avoided. Reliance on vicarious empathy is laden with the risk of conditioning. With conditioning society can come to accept and tolerate the indignities heaped upon it. The question, “why were we surprised to see the regime respond in such a brutal way?” clearly points to the conditioning that occurred over the decades.
It is my hope that those of us that live outside of Iran remember that we have a choice that is less accessible to those in Iran. That is we can and should draw upon our cognitive abilities rather than our emotional wants. Behind every blog and every comment is another human being and that our virtual community is the perfect place for developing the skills required to save and renew Iran – and avoid past mistakes. Alborz