How My Bad Day Became a Revelation on Empathy in America

Today was a bad day. I’ve been battling some sort of sinus infection for about a week now. This morning I woke with pasted eyes shut and a painful headache. A trip to urgent care was in my immediate future. Just as suspected- sinus infection. But that wasn’t what made my bad day bad.

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I went to the grocery store right after to, well, get groceries (duh) and pick up my antibiotic prescription. I winced as a paid the bill, knowing that about 2.2 hours after I unloaded all this crap at home, most of it would be consumed by ravenous kids that think everything that comes from the store has an expiration date of no more than 1 day. I walk my bulky cart to my car. The soda case on the underneath shelf slides out and my cart runs over it, causing it to get wedged. The meat bag lying on top spills over and chicken breasts fall to the pavement. I’m in the middle of the parking lot intersection, with a car waiting. My head is pounding and my nose is running. An older (I use this cautiously now, since I probably fit that category to many people, too) woman is walking in my direction with a young child bouncing beside her. She is my salvation, I’m sure. She gets closer, she chuckles with a “been there” sort of tone. She says, “don’t you hate those kind of days?” I say, “Yeah, it’s been a doozy.” And then guess what? She keeps walking! Right by me and my immovable cart and my chicken breasts being cooked on the hot pavement.

And then I look around. And I see a an older teen sitting on the bench by the store door, smoking a cigarette, with his head lazily sitting in his other hand, staring at me, with absolutely no intention of ever offering any sort of help, even though he is literally 20 feet from my chaotic mess. I imagine I’ll be part of his latest tweet.

So I heave my cart from it’s nasty grip on the soda case, and I pick up my chicken breasts (they needed tenderized anyway, right?) and I head to my car. I unload all my groceries into my trunk, as I notice at least 3 people have walked by without so much as a glance my way. My cart is now empty, it’s hot, my head hurts, and I have to truck that thing back to the store. A man walks toward me, obviously headed into the store, and then right by me, never once offering to take my cart with him. I follow him with my empty cart, and place it in the stack of empty carts from which he just took another empty cart to enter the store.

And it dawns on me. We are a nation of selfish, unkind, uncompassionate, apathetic twits. And we are passing those traits onto our children. How did it all happen? When did it all happen? Why is it happening? Have we literally become a nation that is now empathy-deficient, compassionate-void?

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I could spend time analyzing this in my head. In fact, I do:

  • We are an isolated people. The very tools created meant to connect us all have indeed left us alone and incapable of face-to-face interactions. We don’t know what to do or say when staring at another human face. If we could tweet a lending hand, maybe we would. But extending help verbally, physically, well, just seems too foreign.
  • There’s no more village. While I cringe that such a concept is forever linked to Hillary, the concept is not hers, and thus is not political in anyway. It really does take a village, but the village is gone. We’re more and more alone in our thoughts and in our actions. Any face not readily recognizable in our elite, miniscule circle should be feared, ignored, made fun of, tweeted about. Never, ever should we interact with strangers, unless it’s from the comfort of our own home, viewing their You Tube videos or playing video games with them. In which case, we’re competing with them, we’re taunting them, we’re chiding them. We’re not helping them in anyway, or feeling their pain, their sorrow, their needs. Social groups of days gone by- things like church pot lucks? Mother-daughter teas? Giant family reunions? Community parades and festivals? Joining the PTO or organizing a community yard sale? Where lending a hand was natural, organic? All gone. The village is gone.

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  • We’re numb. There’s nothing sacred anymore, and we’ve heard it all. So what if she’s struggling with her grocery cart? Or he just dropped his portfolio full of papers now caught up in the wind? The news just told me, in a one-minute span, that a family of 5 was shot by their dad and a woman was gang raped by a group of teenage thugs. I think she can handle her cart on her own. Even though we know we shouldn’t, we’re addicted to those horrid news stories, and we learn how to cope from the news anchor’s cues. How can a blond bomb-shell reporter go from giving graphic accounts of a murder to discussing bar-b-q tips and never stop smiling? We take her lead, we adopt her callous ways, and we forget to pause and actually think what it must be like to be someone else in pain. We are utterly numb.
  • We are raising narcissists. Just look at our teens, and never forget that they are tomorrow’s adults. I honestly believe they are the first generation of empathy-deficient, possible-empathy void people charged with inheriting a nation. And that doesn’t freak you out? Take for instance that I have the most meaningful conversations with my daughter when she’s in her room texting me in my room. While I’ll take it over having no interactions with her (we were there at one point), it’s no wonder she’d never dream of offering help to another in a parking lot, because that would require verbal interaction. It might come with rejection. It’s a scary thought. Teens are the first generation to live in a virtual bubble, bereft of real interactions. They’re afraid, they’re self-centered by default, they’re vacant of emotions that aren’t centered on themselves. The last thing on earth that pops into their head is lending a hand. Unless it’s on some grandiose scale such as feeding the hungry in Africa, in which they can hashtag their support, which in essence isn’t helping anyone but their own egocentric minds. It might garner 100 likes, and inflate their already inflated self-image 10 fold, and make them feel good, for a second, until someone reminds them that they’re fat.

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And I’m still dewedging my cart. Alone.

My next stop? A list of ways to build empathy in our kids…it can be done. I swear.

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3 thoughts on “How My Bad Day Became a Revelation on Empathy in America

  1. I must say that although this trend of selfish narcissism is pervasive, it isn’t comprehensive. There are still parents who are raising their children to look outside of themselves and their needs and their time and their money first. Yesterday 9 people (including me and my two children) swarmed my yard weeding and edging from 7-10am – the other 6 were an amazing family from church who “live” their faith. They are less concerned for the next social engagement or accolade and more concerned about helping others. Not only did we get a lot done, but we shared love and joy. Ironically, I had already planned a surprise garden weeding of a friend who needs help on Sunday where 5 of us would surprise another person with yard help – one who didn’t ask for help either. My goal is to teach my children that we Love one another and Serve one another before all else. And that productive, side by side work is much better than one social interaction after another.
    Hopefully the world can re-embrace backyard service without overseas travel and thousand dollar plane tickets.

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    • What a wonderful example of what COULD be in our society. Unfortunately, in my life as a teacher, in my general going-about as a mom and wife, I see very little of this kind of service toward others. There’s no longer an innate leaning toward empathetic behaviors in our society, in our community. It’s going to take a conscious effort from the few (like you) to move the masses to see just how crucial serving and compassion are to having a successful, thriving society. Without empathy, a civilization dies. It’s that important. Kudos to you for showing your kids what it means to do good.

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  2. Pingback: Empathy Boost Your Selfish Kid | backwardparentingbybrita

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