The Future of Empathy?

“The Couple in a Cage” highlights the long history of “othering” in public spaces. Circuses, World Fairs, and museums have long “othered” individuals in the name of entertainment or education. As we tackle the large subject of empathy and the public, it’s important to find spaces where dialogue can actually occur. Fusco nods to kids as the ones to bring about change. However, this is a trope that’s been around for generations. Fusco writes, “for all the concern expressed about shocking children, we found that their reactions have been the most humane. Young children invariably have gotten the closest to the cage; they would seek direct contact, offer to shake our hands, and try to catch our eyes and smile.” Free of many years of encountering stereotypes, learning damaging behaviors, and getting hardened to history, many children are able to see humanity and situations with fresh eyes. Children who encountered “The Couple in a Cage” turned to their parents with questions prompting important conversations about race, history, and the treatment of indigenous peoples. Perhaps if this project had a more educational focus, interpreters could’ve been on hand to assist parents with answering those questions. Otherwise, the idea of children as vessels for empathy and compassion are moot without the guidance of equally empathetic and compassionate adults. The future of an empathetic public doesn’t lie within children without spaces to encourage dialogue and resources to assist parents. How can institutions better support that dialogue? What kind of programming can be done to encourage questions from kids and empathetic responses from parents?

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