I would like to share a significant contribution that Roberto Goizueta offers in his book “Caminamos Con Jesus.” In developing a theology of accompaniment Goizueta adapts the concept of “empathic fusion” which he borrows from the Mexican philosopher Jose Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos critiques the modernist approach to social structures and relationships based on a rational (and often times impersonal) approach. Instead he argues for an aesthetic approach whereby social and cultural transformation occurs through an intense relational solidarity with the other. This aesthetic praxis (social transformation based on the beauty and truth that can be found when one is open to relating with the other) is captured in the phrase “empathic fusion” where the law of love supersedes the law of reason and we experience this when “we can ‘fuse’ with each other… through empathy.” Goizueta offers “empathic fusion” as an ethical formula from which we can offer a socio-cultural critique. Through Vasconcelos’ aesthetic model of praxis human political or economic action is understood not in conceptual frameworks that can be used over and against others (i.e. the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies on developing countries) but in a highly relational process where community development occurs in dialogue and consultation with all affected stakeholders.
Theologically, this intensely relational ethic challenges the limitations of modernity and post-modernity by suggesting that particulars mediate the universal. That is to say the the universal truths are found and recognized not by cold rational arguments but by sharing in particulars that others have experienced. Citing the experience of Our Lady of Guadalupe Goizueta demonstrates how people respond to the insights derived from the experience of another. The particular experienced by Juan Diego on the mountain of Tepeyac is not an isolated truth relevant only to him; the truth that was revealed by the Lady of Guadalupe is a universal truth that resonates with others who did not share in Juan Diego’s experience. Likewise God is universally revealed to us in the particular that is Jesus of Nazareth. Our faith does not express its universal truth through concepts or ideals but in the mystery of the incarnation, the “scandal of particularity” The cross and resurrection does not just reveal the dignity of Jesus; it reveals “the true dignity of all persons.”
“Truth is grounded in praxis, in the interrelationship of others.” The socio-cultural critique that we have through the incarnation is that truth is not authentic if it is imposed from one to the other, as isolated objects rather than related subjects. Truth is experienced through the dynamic of an authentic relationship, an “empathic fusion.” Legislative advocacy is done with this principle very much in mind. When we organize legislative visits to DC or Albany one of the items that we encourage is the use of experiential stories. Certainly we offer facts and data related to the issue and we often leave those behind for the legislator to go over as well, but the legislator is often looking for stories from their constituents on how the issue is actually impacting them. This is what the legislator will share to his colleagues in order to move them on an issue. Certainly people do not share the same story, but aspects of their story will resonate with their own experience and this will move people in a way that data and numbers never will. We can hear about the numbers of people killed by drones in Central Asia and shrug our shoulders as we get on with the rest of our day, but if we were to see an image of a child killed by a drone and hear the grief stricken parents we might take a moment to pause to morally reflect on this issue.