Friday, October 05, 2007

The Looking Glass

Some years ago I visited a zoo in Texas and spent a lot of time in front of the chimpanzee exhibit. There inside the cage sat an old chimp. He looked up at me when I first walked up, but then looked back at what he was doing and paid me no mind. I was, after all, just another of the endless stream of meaningless faces on the other side of the glass, and the bugs he was chasing with his nimble fingers were probably more interesting.

For my part how was struck by how alike we are. They way he used his hands, the expressions he used with other chimps, and the simple way he could ignore the people behind the glass. Knowing they were there staring at him, and carrying on just the same with chasing bugs. Living in such close proximity to human beings hadn’t taught him any empathy for the multitude of faces behind the glass.

I was also reminded of a comment I’d once heard about evolution: “How could anyone look at a monkey and think we’re related.”

So I stood there asking myself that same question. And I came up with one answer: Empathy.