From Where I Sit – Empathy 101

In a recent “day from hell” I had Hilary’s car die for me not once, but twice in two different, busy Fort Saskatchewan highway intersections. The timing was bad, the locations worse.

How instructive to see people’s reactions. The majority of people probably knew I didn’t choose this way to spend my day and simply drove around me.

At least one man did the “upturned palms, outstretched arms” gesture as he rubbernecked around me. No words were exchanged but the message of the body language was clear.

It probably never occurred to him to offer assistance. Or at least understanding. He surely didn’t think back to a similar predicament he may have been in and felt empathy. He conveyed anger, frustration and impatience. He probably also let this annoyance ruin his day.

Conversely, two City of Fort Saskatchewan employees pushed the car out of the intersection and onto a side street so I could await rescue. Perhaps three minutes out of their lives made for a win /win temporary solution for all of us.

With my second incident near the Hutterite colony, a young man offered me a ride somewhere. Another man, who had obviously encountered me several hours earlier at the scene of the first breakdown, stopped to ask what was going on. I don’t know if it was curiosity or concern. By then I had two mechanics there and a tow truck en route.

The next day in Edmonton I saw someone behind a clearly marked “Student Driver” car, exhibit the same angry behaviour as the beginner hesitated a few seconds too long making a left turn on a yellow light. What is the thought process at work here? Was the angry driver never a beginner, never inexperienced, never cautious? Did he get behind the wheel for the first time fully trained? Could he not put himself or his teenager in the beginner’s shoes and feel compassion?

These are the same sort of people who have no patience for trainee bank tellers or cashiers or burger flippers or seniors who’ve slowed down. Have they forgotten their first day (or week) on the job? Would they want their son or daughter on a new job subjected to that shabby treatment?

Being far from perfect myself, I’ve experienced road rage or anger at checkout lineups and delays. I’ve gotten annoyed at inconsiderate or just plain dumb behaviour. Hell, I’ve even had the odd expletive slip through my lips or run through my head. Hard to believe I know, but it’s true!

These aren’t moments I’m proud of, particularly if a child I should be role modeling is present.

Has common sense, common decency and common courtesy gone the way of the dinosaur? Are we so pre-occupied, so hardened, so busy we can’t give each other the extra nano-seconds we may need—to cross the street, find the exact change, stop the crying baby, move the dead car.

I hope not. From where I sit.

*Reprinted with permission