To desire and expect nothing for oneself and to have profound sympathy for others is genuine holiness.—Ivan Turgenev
I’m wondering this morning how many people consider themselves sympathetic. I’m not talking about how we feel when someone dies, though certainly we could use more sympathy there, but more along the lines of what the Oxford dictionary refers to as, “understanding between people; common feeling.” Sympathy for our fellow humans, for the people right around us, and especially for those we perceive to be different from ourselves, appears to be in a drought.
For example, being a Saturday, one’s expectations might be that people have the day off, their weekend free, two days of leisure available to them. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, at least 35% of us work on the weekend. Most of those working weekends are in retail, food service, or sales, which is of little surprise. Of those working weekends, though, more than half of those have more than one job, and that particular statistic has grown substantially over the past ten years. I wonder, as we snarl at how slow a waitress seems to be moving or complain about the number of registers open at the market, if we might do well to show a bit of sympathy for those who are overworked, lacking sleep, struggling to make ends meet, but are still expected to smile and meet the petty demands of customers.
I also think about those around us who deal with persistent pain that we never see. When I was a boy, I fear there were too many times when I thought less of my mother because her arthritis forced her to ask for help. While that attitude reversed itself by the time I was an adult, it is only as I find myself frequently in that same predicament that I truly understand how deflating it feels to have to so often ask for assistance. I know many others who deal daily with chronic pain brought on by a plethora of issues; they smile, they rarely complain, they would rather you not know how they’re really feeling. Yet, when they can steal a moment to themselves, they break down and cry in the silence. Do they not deserve sympathy?
As a general population, I fear we have become so incredibly selfish and self-centered that we’ve lost our sympathy for our fellow man. We deride those who struggle. We make fun of those less fortunate. We even delight in placing obstacles in the path of those trying to better themselves. We would rather strip people of their dignity than put an arm around their shoulder and help them out of the ditch into which they’ve fallen. Instead, we chide them for having dared to fall into that ditch in the first place.
Our lack of sympathy became painfully evident in the past week with a local news story that went viral. A woman complained to a local bar that her New Year’s Eve was ruined by what she mistakenly assumed was a dead drug addict being carried from the bar. Her words were scathing and mean as she not only derided the bar, but her over-worked server. When the bar’s manager came back with a scathing reply, explaining that the “dead addict” had in fact been a 72-year-old woman having a heart attack, the entire Internet cheered that the rude woman had received her comeuppance.
There is a shocking lack of sympathy in that story, first from the woman making the complaint, who was so caught up in how “horrible” her night was that she felt compelled to share her anger on social media. Her words were insensitive and uncaring and the manager’s response was sufficient in correcting that wrong. However, we, as a society, are not happy, apparently, until we’ve taken things too far. As the story became one of international interest, people around the world went out of their way to humiliate the woman making the complaint, even inundating the salon where she rented booth space. Notice that I’m using the past tense in that sentence. Because of the severity of the response, the salon canceled her booth rental. The woman now gets to start 2016 without any income.
“She got what she deserved,” is the common response, but did she? She deserved to be corrected in the same manner as she complained, and that happened rather swiftly. But to think that she, or anyone, deserves to be shamed internationally, to have financial harm inflicted not only on her but on others, who worked at the same salon, demonstrates a global lack of sensitivity, compassion, and sympathy even greater than that which she exhibited herself. Some have said, “I hope she’s learned her lesson,” and I would assume she has, but clearly the rest of the world has not. There is no good reason for the shaming to continue nor for her name to be dragged through the mud of international media.
Throughout my life, I’ve made plenty of mistakes, errors in judgment, outright acts of willful ignorance. Chances are pretty damn high that you’ve done the same. None of us are proud of those moments. We learn our lessons, hopefully, and move on. We all work hard. With the economic devastation of the middle class, the number of people struggling just to put food on the table has increased, despite yesterday’s news that the economy added 292,000 new jobs in December. Simply having a job, or two, is not necessarily sufficient for sustaining a reasonable quality of life.
For 98 percent of us, life is a continual race from one challenge to another. We all have our struggle. We all experience pain we don’t talk about. So doesn’t it just make sense that we should have sympathy for the masses that share our common condition?
A little sympathy and caring goes a long way. Try it.