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Earlier this month, when I decided to start blogging again, I acknowledged that I sometimes worry about our country and the direction it’s headed. The division in America is unlike anything I’ve seen, and I often ask myself, “How did we get here?”

While I think there are many factors at play, one stands out in particular: There is a profound lack of empathy in our country, and this was never more apparent, at least to me, until our current administration instituted a zero-tolerance immigration policy that separated families at the southern border.

“The dilemma is that if you’re weak, if you’re weak, which some people would like you to be, if you’re really, really pathetically weak, the country’s going to be overrun with millions of people,” President Donald Trump said. “And if you’re strong, then you don’t have any heart. That’s a tough dilemma. Perhaps I would rather be strong, but that’s a tough dilemma.”

Somehow, being “weak” meant doing nothing, while being “strong” meant separating families. I couldn’t disagree more. Part of the reason we’re so divided is that so many people view things through an all-or-nothing lens. You either think this or you think that. You’re either with us or against us. There’s no middle ground.

That mindset is not healthy for our democracy.

Immigration, to be sure, is a tough issue. It’s an issue that neither side has been able to solve. But zero tolerance, I would argue, is not an ideal way to approach many of the challenges we face. For example, I’m all for road safety, but if going one mile per hour over the speed limit meant jail time, a lot of us would have been locked up a long time ago! In this instance, zero tolerance resulted in the separation of families. It resulted in horrific images that hit many of us – fathers and mothers, sons and daughters – directly in our hearts.

What triggered those emotions? What made us care so much? Simple: We cared because we have empathy and compassion for others.

Does that make us weak? Does that make us “pathetically weak”? Does that mean we don’t want laws?

Of course not.

We can be strong yet empathetic. Our country was built on that principle. We believe in the rule of law, yes, but we also believe in the words of Emma Lazarus that appear on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” America is at its best when it enforces laws with compassion.

That lesson appears lost on former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who last week responded “womp womp” in reference to a 10-year-old girl with Down Syndrome who was separated from her mother. What hit me so hard, especially as the father of a son with special needs, was Lewandowski’s complete lack of empathy for others.

While I’m happy that Trump ultimately reversed his zero-tolerance policy, I remain concerned about the language he has used to describe illegal immigrants. Last Wednesday, he said they could “infest” our country. I found the use of that word disheartening. I found it dehumanizing. I found it lacking empathy for others. When the President uses that type of language, he only divides us further.

I don’t know what the solution to immigration is. Will we ever come to a perfect resolution that satisfies everyone? Probably not. But as we search for an answer, as we endeavor to form a more perfect union, I hope that our leaders and lawmakers – and, indeed, our citizens – approach this challenge with empathy for those seeking to enter our land of opportunity and refuge.

Many people, however, disagree. They feel that those crossing the border illegally are breaking the law and must suffer the consequences – and if they’re separated from their families, well, so be it.

That’s a valid opinion. But it’s an easy opinion to have if you were born somewhere like America.

I often wonder what I would do if I were in these immigrants’ shoes. If I loved my wife and kids as I do, would I risk life and limb to travel hundreds and thousands of miles to escape violence, poverty, and corruption? You bet I would. Does that make me a bad person? Or does it simply mean I wasn’t born in a country that guarantees life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all of its citizens?

My children were raised in the Mormon faith. As such, they performed two-year mission trips all over the world, from Brazil to Portugal, from Australia to Japan, from Ukraine to Kentucky. They’ve seen how difficult some people have it. They’ve seen the squalor in which some people live. They understand why they would want to flee in search of a better life.

To be clear, I am not advocating for open borders. I understand that there have to be laws. I also understand that not everyone attempting to enter this country is doing so in good faith or with the best interests of their loved ones at heart. Instead, they are entering for nefarious reasons. Drugs are being smuggled. Children are being trafficked. I am not oblivious to these realities.

But those people are the minority. Call me naive, but I believe that the vast majority of people seeking entry into this country are doing so because they are desperate for a better life.

No, America cannot solve everyone’s problem, but we can do a better job of assisting those who seek our help. Instead of spending tens of billions of dollars on a wall – which might not even be effective – what if we spent some of that money on more lawyers, judges, and courtrooms to hear immigration cases? What if we spent it on better immigration facilities? Or more resources for law enforcement to create better accountability and oversight at the border?

Wouldn’t that be better than a wall? Or separating families?

Some folks, I’m sure, will tell me this is all above my pay grade, that I should avoid politics and just stick to baseball. But that’s just it. To me, this is not a political post; it’s a moral one. It’s not about which side of the aisle you’re on. It’s about deciding between right and wrong. It’s about being a good person. There has to a better, more civil, more humane way to curb illegal immigration. There has to be a more responsible approach than separating families.

If you find yourself not having empathy for these people, if you find yourself not caring for them, I would invite you to pause and reflect. You can support tough immigration policies while still acknowledging someone’s humanity.

Open your mind. Open your heart. Read. Listen. Understand.

There are people in this world willing to put their children in a raft and venture across the open ocean without food or water or guarantee of survival. There are people willing to wade across the Rio Grande with a 3-year-old strapped to their back, knowing full well that, if caught, they could face severe consequences and be separated from their child.

These people think those options are better than remaining where they were born.

Can you say the same about living in America? Probably not.

I don’t know what the right immigration policy is. I just know that zero tolerance is the wrong one.

In closing, I’ll leave you with the words of Bruce Springsteen, who last Tuesday addressed his Broadway audience as follows:

I never believed that people come to my shows, or rock shows, to be told anything. But I do believe that they come to be reminded of things. To be reminded of who they are, at their most joyous, at their deepest, when life feels full. It’s a good place to get in touch with your heart and your spirit. To be amongst the crowd. And to be reminded of who we are and who we can be collectively. Music does those things pretty well sometimes, particularly these days, when some reminding of who we are and who we can be isn’t such a bad thing.

That weekend of the March for Our Lives, we saw those young people in Washington, and citizens all around the world, remind us of what faith in America and real faith in American democracy looks and feels like. It was just encouraging to see all those people out on the street and all that righteous passion in the service of something good. And to see that passion was alive and well and still there at the center of the beating heart of our country.

It was a good day, and a necessary day, because we are seeing things right now on our American borders that are so shockingly and disgracefully inhumane and un-American that it is simply enraging. And we have heard people in high position in the American government blaspheme in the name of God and country that it is a moral thing to assault the children amongst us. May God save our souls.

There’s the beautiful quote by Dr. King that says the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. Now, there have been many, many recent days when you could certainly have an argument over that. But I’ve lived long enough to see that in action and to put some faith in it. But I’ve also lived long enough to know that arc doesn’t bend on its own. It needs all of us leaning on it, nudging it in the right direction, day after day. You’ve gotta keep, keep leaning. I think it’s important to believe in those words, and to carry yourself, and to act accordingly.

I’ll keep leaning, Boss. One day – and word – at a time.

Join the discussion 13 Comments

  • David Perine says:

    Great read, I agree we have to find a kinder way to deal with this problem. I believe too that we need to have laws and those laws should be enforced. We don’t have to separate family’s , but in the times we live in I want our country safe, I want us to know who is coming in. Come in , but just do it the right way.

  • Ed says:

    It takes courage to make a stand as a public figure in a time when that stand may go against the grain of popular opinion. I believe your comment of viewing the world through the lens of “all or nothing” is a part of the reason for the divide, and to go along with this would be the dependency on others to spoon feed us what our opinion should be on this issue or that issue. We’ve become a society of dependent thinking, the skill set required to take in the information, digest and analyze to create an individual thought or opinion has slowly gone the way of the pay phone. It appears the need for independent thought is not a socially desirable trait, therefore mockery ensues on anyone who attempts this futile pursuit.
    The immigration issue has become the unfortunate victim of politics, more about how to prove the current administration is unfit, unqualified for the position and less about the individuals who are truly seeking a better way of life. Immigration is not a political engine to be fueled when one side feels the pressure of not being in power, it is at it’s base a security issue. I don’t know the answer, not sure anyone in a role of influence with regard to this has the answer either. I am confident it requires honest, heartfelt discussion and attitudes, party affiliations and ego’s should be checked at the door.

  • Paul says:

    I could not agree more. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. Maybe this has been the case for a while, but the current occupant of the WH views every problem as a game, like baseball, where there can only be one winner. I don’t view any problem in that way. Most issues in our society can be resolved in a way that mutually benefits all sides. Most political or societal issues that are resolved with only one winner are usually the result of unequal bargaining power or coercion. Those resolutions do not endure because they will be altered as soon as the balance of bargaining power changes. We saw that with Obamacare. As soon as the GOP regained power, they gutted the law. When the Dems. regain political power, and this will occur at some point, they will reverse the tax laws and health insurance laws recently instituted by the GOP. The constant upheaval of the way in which we address the tough issues means that we cannot achieve long-term solutions.

  • Bill Madlock says:

    Beautiful words, Mr. Murphy. Zero tolerance is simply not humane. Your eloquence on this subject is like fresh air, and I hope it leads others to – in the words of the Boss – “be reminded” of who we are and should be.

  • Loretta McGinn says:

    Well said, Mr. Murphy. If only those who think like you spoke up more frequently. Thank you so much.

  • Fred Robinette says:

    leaning here too; thank you for a great blog, I appreciated it!

  • David Goodwin says:

    Dale, thank you. I think the greatest lesson from my parents was empathy.

  • Tom Tam says:

    Well said, Dale. Your willingness to speak out at this critical time in our nation is inspiring indeed. Thanks for doing all you can to make a positive difference within your sphere of influence.

  • Brad says:

    Murph, I had a great discussion with a liberal minded prosecutor (I’m a conservative minded Police Officer). We all know this has been a topic of the last several presidential administrations. While they all claimed to be doing something about this, no infrastructure was put in place to assist in this. Unfortunately it has now fallen into the current administration which has obviously been more proactive than the previous several administrations both Democrat and Republican. I urged the prosecutor to unite as prosecutors to see the infrastructure required to make this process as humane as possible while the process runs its course. It will take the prosecutors to make this happen.

  • Scooter Baldwin says:

    Mr Murphy one of your Biggest fans ever and mostly because the heart you have showed on and off the field. However I do have to say a couple things on this. First it is awful to see what is happening to theese familys but don’t be so quick to lay the blame at the current administration’s feet completely since theese polocies were implemented during the Clinton administration. But were loosely enforced. Trump simply has said we are going to enforce our own laws. We need to get passed placing blame for the problems in our country right now so that we might figure out how to solve them. In this case cutting down on themassive amount of roadblocks and red tape and make the process eaiser. But if we do this it needs to go hand in hand with enforcement of the laws. Becoming an American means embracing personal responsibility. Thats one of the tradeoffs for the awsome freedoms we enjoy.

  • Devi Maya Pariyar says:

    Thank you for writing about this sensitive topic. I’m also a immigrant from Nepal who has come here to fulfill my dream for better education, better opportunities and to learn from diverse cultures. I absolutely enjoyed reading your focus on empathy. Empathy is all about seeing others problems as my problems. People have replaced empathy with sympathy which is sad to know. “ willing hearts and helping hands can change the world” and it come by empathy, altruism and forgiving.
    I’m amazed how much I have learn and grown in this past two years. This foreign life has helped me enhance my language, strengthen my values to serve others, broaden my knowledge to treat others as a global citizen no matter what their race, enthicity, culture, and tradition. I’m grateful to be in USA and develop spiritually, academically, professionally and personally and hence I’m willing to replenish back to my country, Nepal and to those around me.
    I’m not a alien, Even though I’m an orphan.

    Thank you again for sharing this great article. I enjoy reading it. I will continue to pray for this great America, specially for those are still thriving to live life in a place where Independence Day is celebrated with joy together as families and friends.

  • Tom says:

    Mr. Murphy,

    You are someone whom I have looked up to since my boyhood. I hail from both Atlanta and Philadelphia, so I had the extreme pleasure of rooting for you as the hometown hero in both places. Throughout my life – and this is no joke – I have often asked myself “What would Dale Murphy do in a situation like this?” You are the epitome of someone with unimpeachable moral character, so I value what you have to say.

    I too am a huge proponent of empathy. The world can certainly use more of it. On this particular topic (and any other), I believe that empathy is a necessity. My wife is an immigrant from Latin America, so this topic hits close to home for me. Fortunately, she was able to come here through legal channels, and not via more treacherous means like so many others. She is now a full-fledged US citizen! Suffice it to say, I’m pro-immigration.

    However, what we’re dealing with on our southern border cannot rightly be described as immigration, per se. Whatever you want to call it, it’s broken, and it has created a dangerous environment that is allowing nefarious opportunists to prey on others. An important point that often gets omitted from this debate is that many of the “families” that have been separated are not actually families. Children are being sent by their families with smugglers who often don’t have the best interest of those children at heart. Many children have not been returned to their family, because they did not travel with a family member or relatives. The border chaos has been a boon to human traffickers. This is due in large part to the fact that our previous president sent an open invitation with DACA. And, as a previous commenter pointed out, these policies of detainment have been in place since the 90s. These separations were happening under the previous administration, without any apparent outrage among the public. Regardless, we have laws for a reason, and it is an unfortunate fact that enforcing those laws sometimes means that entire families must suffer the consequences. Our prisons are populated with many, many people who have children. My heart aches for those kids, but should we release criminals from jail because of this?

    I agree that we shouldn’t imprison people for doing 46 in a 45 mph zone, but I’m not sure that that’s a fair comparison. When lack of clear enforcement of laws is creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and chaos on a large scale, then I believe that the best course of action is to rigorously enforce those laws until order can be restored. That has not been happening for a very long time when it comes to the crisis on our southern border. Too many politicians have been using the crisis as a tool for demagoguery and rank opportunism. Not everyone who crosses our borders illegally is a member of MS-13, nor are they all poor, innocent families, despite what those on either side of the argument would have us believe. It’s much more complicated. In addition, these people’s home countries have been encouraging the border crossings, or are at least doing nothing to prevent them. This is despite the fact that countries like Mexico have very harsh immigration policies that they rigorously enforce. Those governments are also culpable.

    As a public figure, I’m sure that you have some experience with people who are desperate to be in your presence. Perhaps they even “crossed your borders” in an attempt to reach you. I have no doubt that you had empathy and compassion for them. However, I doubt that you would invite every single overzealous fan into your home, regardless of how badly they wanted to be there. To do so would potentially endanger those who you have the responsibility to protect – your family. And if you thought that even one of those people could possibly be dangerous, then I’m sure that you too would institute a zero-tolerance policy. That’s how I choose to view this debate. Yes, we absolutely need to help those who are in desperate need. My family and I pray for them every night, and support them financially as much as we are able. But, we also need to balance those needs against the needs of our own families. The President is tasked with making those hard choices on behalf of the American family/citizenry. Above all else, the President is responsible for protecting the citizens of the United States of America. I am no fan of the current President’s harsh rhetoric; however, I believe that he echoes the growing frustration among many Americans who are tired of politicians who use reassuring and measured rhetoric, but who never actually do anything to solve the problem. Many Americans just want to finally see results. They’re tired of the bickering among the political class, as well as the disingenuous emotional manipulation. They wanted to hire an “outsider” to clean up the mess. While I didn’t vote for Trump myself, I must say that I share that frustration. I readily admit that Trump’s words are not helpful, nor is the fact that he has human barnacles like Corey Lewandowski riding his coattails. When it comes to personal integrity, men like Trump and Lewandowski are the antithesis of Dale Murphy!

    Mr. Murphy, I truly appreciate reading your input on this very important issue. Obviously, there are no easy answers. I just hope that you understand that there are those who want compassion for the less fortunate, but who also have genuine concerns for the safety of their country and their families. God Bless you!