Empathy

Woman Shopping at Supermarket with TrolleyWhen I hear the stories of what is happening to families all across our country during our government’s ‘shut down’ I wonder, “Congress, where is your empathy?”  I find myself wondering this thought about other situations, too.  Henry David Thoreau said, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”

Awhile back, I had an encounter with a guy named Ned that reminded me of this saying.  Ned was telling me of an exchange he had had with a woman in a grocery store who appeared to be in a big hurry or simply not paying attention to others.  Ned was on a main aisle of the store and this woman came rushing out of one of the side aisles and ran into his cart with her cart.  No damage was done and no one was hurt, but Ned was immediately angry at this woman and he proceeded to tell me of how he gave her a piece of his mind.  He yelled at her that she needed to watch where she was going and she didn’t need to be in that big of a hurry.  Soon the lady began to cry and Ned nailed her for that, too.  He told her he wasn’t “buying that crying crap” and that she needed to be more careful in the future.  She apologized, and while crying went on her way.  Feeling good about what he had accomplished, Ned continued on his way, too.  Another man standing there started to clap for him and told Ned that the woman had also ran into him, and that she deserved to be told off like that.

Dismayed at Ned’s behavior, I asked him if he had given any thought as to why the woman might have acted like that.  He shrugged his shoulders and stated that he didn’t care, that she didn’t need to be hurrying like that.  I suggested that perhaps she was having some trouble in her life at the moment and that she wasn’t able to pay as close attention as she might have otherwise.  I found his reply difficult to understand.  Laughing, he said that he is now of the age where he doesn’t care what other’s may be going through, and that if he thinks he needs to say something he will, even at the expense of the other person’s feelings.  I couldn’t help but wonder where was this man’s empathy?

This incident has stayed with me for several weeks for several reasons.  One reason is because I have often had a lot on my mind and probably not paid attention to what I was doing. I would be very upset (perhaps to tears) if another person spoke to me in such a cruel manner, then didn’t accept my apology, and laughed at my tears.

Secondly, the woman did apologize.  Give her the benefit of the doubt and move forward.  That day, Ned let his emotions be controlled by his circumstances instead of by his character (Independence Day, Independent Thinker).

Thirdly, most of us don’t go running into people on purpose with our grocery carts and then cry about it.  These were signs that something bigger than grocery shopping was going on in this woman’s life.  Yet, two different people didn’t pick up on it.  Maybe something big was going on in their lives as well.

Fourthly, I know Ned.  I know what kind of a person he is capable of being.  He has been an example of a kind, gentle, loving person.  Many people look up to him.  It is very troublesome to see this change of behavior in this man.  I have to ask myself, “What is going on in his life to cause him to act in this manner?”

Lastly, situations like this make me question myself and I can’t help but wonder about the times I have let my emotions be controlled by my circumstances instead of by my character.  I am reminded of the times I have knowingly acted inappropriately.  I am embarrassed and ashamed about it.  I am far from perfect!  I, too, need reminders to live a better, kinder life.   I have also come to realize that often, just having an audience makes us less kind.  I can’t help but wonder that if no one was around would Ned have reacted differently to this woman?

In my New Year’s Resolutions post, Reflect, Re-Evaluate, Resolve, I talked about promoting compassion and peace.  After spending time thinking about the situation with Ned, I realized it was a good time for me to look back at those resolutions and conduct a self-check.  2013 Resolutions:

  • To be kinder than necessary, especially to those with whom I find it difficult to get along.  If I can’t be kind, I can be quiet.  I resolve always to be respectful.
  • To be more tolerant of people whose opinions and choices with whom I disagree.  Being tolerant does not mean I condone these opinions and choices, but simply that I understand we each have the freedom to choose.
  • To always remember that violence does not beget peace and hate does not beget love.  I see mild forms of hatred and violence in everyday life.  It exists; however, I vow not to surrender myself to it.
  • To practice peace each day.  Gandhi taught that we must be the change we want to see in the world.  This includes in our neighborhood grocery store.

I recently saw a video on You Tube called “Empathy” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDDWvj_q-o8.  It is a gentle reminder to us that we don’t know what is really going on inside the lives of others.  I challenge all of us to live a more empathetic life, and “to look through each other’s eyes for an instant.”

Be kinder than necessary, be grateful, and create a peace-filled week,

Ms. Brown

P.S.  Congratulations to this week’s winner of a FREE “No Bull Teacher” polo shirt.  Check your email to see if you are the lucky one!!  There are three more weeks of chances.

 

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