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Defenders of the Innocent Second Annual Awards Reception: Empathy

The Circle of Empathy

On May 18, at the Defenders of the Innocent Awards Reception, Larry Marshall made the following remarks (excerpted from his longer speech):

The Circle of Empathy We Choose to Inhabit
by Larry Marshall
Defenders of the Innocent Awards Reception, May 18, 2009

The challenge we all face is how to define our own circle. We can make it a very small circle, or we can make it a much wider circle.

Five Options for the Size of that Circle

  • T Sign at the Defenders of the Innocent Awards Reception here are those of us who define that circle in a very narrow way. The circle is ourselves.
  • In fact, there are folks who make it even smaller. Their circle is their pocket. That’s all that matters. That is what makes the call for their concern, their passion, their empathy.
  • Most people we know go beyond that. The next biggest circle is the family—our children, our partner, and that is wonderful, but again it is a relatively easy circle to draw. They are part of you. They are connected to you.
  • Then there are people—a bit more generous—whose circle reaches into their community, their neighbors, their church, and that’s also wonderful. But it is still a circle of people who look like you, who talk like you, who stay with you, who hang with you.
  • And then there are the remarkable folks who actually draw their circle so much broader, who see all humanity falling within that circle, who see the suffering of those who have no connection to them, whom they will never meet, who don’t look like them, who don’t live near them, but about whom they say, “This is my suffering.” These people recognize that this is all one circle that we inhabit.

A Wide Circle Brings Reform

We are here tonight because all of you in this room, recognize that this is your issue, that these are your brothers, that these are your sisters. You have worked steadfastly to try to bring to the public’s attention these cases both because of what these individual cases represent, but also because of the energy and the leverage that each of these cases presents for meaningful reform of the system.

We have seen how each of these cases ends up creating a momentum, a momentum that brings public attention to these issues and generates some real reform.

We have a choice. If that choice is to draw our circle of empathy to include all of our brothers and sisters, and then to scream out with as much passion and intensity, and to sacrifice as much as we would for our very brothers and sisters, to do that is as godly as we on earth can ever come.
The Work of the Innocence Project: Holy Work

So I beg of all of you, as you think in these very tough times how to participate in different endeavors of giving and supporting, to recognize that the work that this Project is doing for those who are so far on the outskirts of that natural circle of empathy, that this work is in fact holy work and by doing it, we are reaching out to make the world so much purer, so much more full of love and care and dedication.

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