My mother teaches second grade, and this is a story she told me today.
The class was about to do a lesson on Susan B. Anthony, and so my mom wanted to illustrate to them what the fight for women's suffrage was all about. So she held a vote, but informed the class, "I only want the girls to vote. I don't care about what the boys have to say." The class shuffled in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes, then one of the girls declared, "But that's not fair!"
Two more girls spoke up before the boys found their voices - apparently her boys are a shy bunch this year. But before long the whole class was protesting. At that point Mom could ask, "but why isn't it fair?" and begin their discussion. The kids talked about how it felt to be excluded and not listened to, and again it was a girl who stepped up, saying that she wouldn't want anyone to do that to her, so nobody should do it to the boys either.
At that point Mom wrote a word on the blackboard. That word was "empathy." "This is a sixth-grade word," she told them, "but it's exactly what you're talking about. It means putting yourself in another person's position and understanding how they feel, even though you haven't had the same experiences."
I've been thinking a lot about intersectionality lately, and how all of us are a lot more divided by our differences than we should be in the fight for social justice. White feminists have failed women of color. Men and women don't trust each other. People of different religions are literally killing each other. People with mental or physical disabilities slip through Grand Canyon-sized cracks. Even the LGBT community is divided against itself. Sometimes I think we'll never stop battling each other long enough to make any progress.
But that classroom gets it. Empathy united the boys and the girls. Empathy empowered the "privileged class" to reject their privilege and prioritize people. There's still a lot to learn - for everyone - but it all starts with empathy.
It gave me hope, anyway. Maybe it will give you hope too.