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Empathy, Please

11 Jul

OrchidsIn my last years back home, I was taking classes while studying for the GRE. I was in a Sociology class taught by the same professor I had for 100 level. It was a small class and he assigned us to go to traffic court and observe. Between classes and two jobs, I had no time for it so I decided to let it slide. One day he decided to see who had been already. He got most of the way around the room with all no answers and he chose to ask me why. Out of everyone in the classroom he asked me why. I told him I had no time because of work and that work was more important so I could pay rent. He went into a long-winded speech about if I didn’t do the assignment I wouldn’t pass his class and if I didn’t pass his class I wouldn’t graduate and if I didn’t graduate I wouldn’t get a better job to pay my rent. In seconds, he not only judged me, but told my future…in front of my peers. Some of those peers were co-workers and a supervisor who were slack-jawed because they knew me and were waiting for me to fire back. The same co-workers who nicknamed me Hunter for my ability to play physically like one of the guys. I did our professor the kindness of correcting him in private. I already had my BA in Psychology. I was working two jobs. I didn’t need his class. I didn’t need him. I was there because I wanted to be there. He apologized profusely and spent the rest of the semester watching his words. Truth is, even if he was frustrated that no one had been to traffic court yet, he could have shown more empathy when I told him that paying my rent was more important than ONE assignment.

People judging others happens daily and we read about it all the time thanks to the speed of the information superhighway. Just the other day Theresa shared this piece on Twitter from The Washington Post by Darlena Cunha about how she and her husband suddenly found themselves on food stamps and losing their house when the economy tanked. It really hit home because she could be any one of us in America. Living happily in prosperity until the day we are scraping to get by and suffering the judgmental stares.

A few weeks ago, my best friend posted something similar on Facebook. Generally, I refrain from commenting on hot button issues on Facebook. Let’s face it, on Facebook people have unlimited characters to try to explain why they’re right and you’re wrong. Well, I found myself addressing a comment made by someone I know about how angry he was when he witnessed a man checking out at the store buying groceries with food stamps and beer with cash, but refused to buy a candy bar for his son. Now this person I know seemed pretty bent out of shape because he was making assumptions that led to judgment. I piped up and pointed out the only certainties from that situation: the man paid for food with food stamps, he paid for beer with cash, and he would not let his son have a candy bar. Everything else was assumption on his part and I asked, what if he just picked up his son from his grandparent’s house and just had a candy bar? What if he was buying the beer for his parents/in-laws for watching his son? What if his son has diabetes? What if…? The questions went on. I’ve stood in line many times behind women using WIC to purchase formula and baby food; each item needing to be rung up separately. I await my turn happily and thankful because a child or children are being fed. I’ve patiently waited for people I checked out at the register to pay with their food stamps then fumble with their cash for the remainder of their purchases…which is no one’s business but their own. Are we so privileged that the poorest of us can’t indulge in what everyone else indulges in after a long day at work when they have to scrape for it? Not everyone who needs assistance is lazy. Not everyone relying on the government to for food sits at home all day long doing nothing. It’s so easy for us to watch and judge, thinking we know it all. But we don’t.

How about the judgments on people with handicaps, visible or not? What would you do if you saw someone in a wheelchair, push themselves up to reach for a can on the top shelf at the grocery store? People with physical disabilities aren’t always confined to a wheelchair, but use it in public because it’s better than losing their balance/strength/energy and collapsing in the middle of a store. What would you do if you were at a theme park and saw people standing without assistance in the handicapped line? Disabilities are not just physical. Severe Emotional Disabilities (SED) exist and it interferes with the daily functioning ability of the people affected. I witnessed people fight against the agency I worked for when we were opening a group home in their neighborhood. Try explaining to a forlorn fifteen year old, who earned a place in that home, why the neighbors don’t want them living there. The teens had enough stacked against them and they knew before moving in there were people who felt they didn’t belong in their backyard. I witnessed a woman in a wheelchair get pissed off at having to wait in a handicapped line at Disneyland behind people who were not in wheelchairs. As if only the physically disabled are the only ones deserving of the assistance. You can read more about both in my post, “At A Loss”.

There was also the time at Legoland when my best friend’s son, who has Autism, was having meltdown. Some young ladies (likely older teens) decided they should stare with their opinion written all over their faces. I hear and read a lot of similar stories because I have a large circle of friends with children diagnosed with Autism. The stares they get at the store or the post office or the park because their child is in meltdown mode and nothing will get them out of it. In the judgment of everyone staring, that child is misbehaving and the parent did not teach them how to behave in public. Shall I point out how staring is rude and shouldn’t be done in public? They have no clue. None. I worked in retail for a big box store for two years. I remember hearing a child having a meltdown one day and it lasted throughout the entire round in the store. I happened to be near the registers when the mom checked out and she apologized, saying her son has Autism. Judgment by others has resulted in parents apologizing for something they have no control over. They should never have to apologize because we should have more empathy.

How about childless couples? They have all the freedom to do what they want and spend their money how they want! Or do they? I did a guest post for In Johnna’s Kitchen’s Soften Saturday series on a childless life. Not all of us choose to be childless. Not all of us can celebrate Mother’s Day without sorrow and a gaping hole in our heart or feel the same joy when someone announces their pregnancy. We’re not heartless when we don’t fawn all over your news. We’re in pain and we just can’t fake it anymore.

When you use words or a look to pass judgment you are telling others you are better than them. We are human beings with thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We need to treat those we meet with the same empathy and compassion we would want in the same situation. We are equals. I don’t care about your skin color, religious upbringing, sexual orientation, education level, or socio-economic status. How about some empathy? Like a smile, empathy goes a long way and costs nothing.

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6 Comments

Posted by on July 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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6 responses to “Empathy, Please

  1. thhernandez

    July 12, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Well said, as always, Debi.

     
  2. Cheryl Harris (@CherylharrisRD)

    July 12, 2014 at 1:20 am

    Great post as usual, chickadee. Your teacher’s tirade said a lot about him–little about you.

     
    • Debi Smith

      July 12, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Thanks, Cheryl! And to think I took his class because he was good the first time around. I just hope he learned a lesson not to do that with other students.

       
  3. gdwest123

    July 13, 2014 at 10:14 am

    Absolutely agree with all you say Debi

     

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