Video: Roger Ebert on 11th Hour

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Today, Monday, June 18, would have been my late husband’s 76th birthday. Some of the things I most admired about him were his intelligence, curiosity, and above all else, his amazing capacity to empathize with others and show compassion. The following speech was delivered by Roger on April 4th, 1994, as part of Colorado Public Television’s “11th Hour” series, dedicated to recording the words of wisdom left by distinguished individuals for future generations. The full video is embedded below along with transcribed excerpts of his remarkable speech. Happy Birthday Dear Roger, and wherever you are, thank you for leaving us with words that seek to bring us together. They are needed more than ever. Chaz Ebert

“The quality that is most needed in the world today is empathy: the ability to see things from the point of view of another person, or as the song suggests, ‘To walk a little while in their shoes.’ Yet there is little in our society that encourages empathy. Here in the United States, for example, in recent years we have seen much greater emphasis on ethnic and other special interest groups. People are encouraged to think of themselves as white or black or Asian or African-American or female or members of a specific religion or political party, as if those affiliations superseded their membership in the human race.”

“When a religion teaches that others are wrong, it’s not a very tolerant religion, and I am suspicious of it. I am suspicious of any philosophical system or any political system that says others are wrong. I think it’s necessary for us to listen, to understand that everybody has probably arrived at some sort of a truth in their own way, from their own background, given the tools that they have to work with, and that if we could listen to what they think their truth is, we can learn more about them and more about our own truth.” 

“What is a good way to develop the qualities of empathy, curiosity and compassion, to walk for even a short time in someone else’s shoes? At least in my own life, art has been the best way. Through books and movies, through plays and songs, and all the other arts, I have been able to learn about and identify with people who are not myself. Art is of course many things, but I believe it’s most important role is to give form to emotion and then communicate it from one person to another. We will always be trapped within ourselves, but we can however usually understand how those closest to us feel—our relatives, the people we’re married to, our families. We can identify with them, but what about the others? What about those born to other tribes? I believe art is the closet we can come to understanding how a stranger really feels.”

“Be curious. Have empathy. Wonder what it is like to be someone else. Make a friend who is not like you.”

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