By Chandra Alexandre

Watching news of death and destruction from around the world here at home can easily consume our optimism and poison our hope. From world events to national headlines, following along can be terrifying.

What will we see next? My heart is breaking for the lives lost and I believe our shared heart at the center of humanity is crying, especially for the innocents.

Children come to us as they are, full of possibility and free from hate. At Community Action Marin, we serve hundreds of children and their families each day as Marin County’s designated anti-poverty agency and largest provider of free and affordable high-quality early education.

When families come to our agency, we don’t know their political affiliations, their religion or the side they’re on with any number of divisive issues. We work to meet their needs and to provide services to help them thrive. Parents and teachers put children at the center of their choices. We know, even without having to say it, that we all yearn to give them a chance to make our world a better place.

Leaders, politicians and people in power (like me) whose decisions have a direct impact on our children can easily justify the choices that we make. But it’s rare that we stray far from what we believe in the first place.

Studies show that we come to conclusions first and work backwards to find arguments to fit. Of course, we all have beliefs informed by our biases. People often take refuge in like-minded friends and colleagues because it’s easier and more comfortable. And for all of our reasoning abilities, we still make choices born out of a combination of conscious and unconscious bias. Often, we choose out of self-interest (we all like to win, after all).

The psychology of decision-making is complex. One powerful idea from researchers like Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman is that we can learn to pause in our shared humanness before we act. Doing this, along with seeking advice from someone we know (but who isn’t emotionally invested in us or in a particular outcome) can lead to better results. I’d like to think that we’d all opt in to happier endings. And we can.

Simply put, empathy is that human pause. It means taking a moment to understand and share the feelings or experience of another. In my job, I often get shocked responses when I note the data on racial inequities and poverty in Marin. Did you know that at last count, Marin County had over 1,000 children under the age of five living in poverty? That poverty is the result of systems that continue to impact people of color disproportionately. For all of our progressive values, affluence and abundant opportunities in Marin, our collective decisions allow ignorance, bias and hate to continue as part of the fabric of the county. We seem to be stuck in insular bubbles that too often render our heart of caring invisible and unmotivated to act.

I think it’s time to ask ourselves why we aren’t making other choices, better choices. It’s time, I believe, to collectively pause, focus on the children and let empathy in. Let us return to our shared heart to understand what matters and choose to leave a different legacy for our children.

Community Action Marin is dedicated to alleviating the causes and consequences of poverty. Learn more by visiting our website for a look at our robust community needs assessment data at Find out how you can help in your own front yard by downloading our Step Up for Marin call for an equitable community. The choices we make together will help people and change lives.

Chandra Alexandre is CEO of Community Action Marin.

Used with permission by the Marin Independent Journal.
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