This is a rant, based on something that happened today. Perhaps it is not diary material but this is the only community where I think this rant may resonate. That, sadly, in and of itself is not a good sign.
An FYI. I think it helps to understand who I am. I am a retired educator, a female, who came of age in the 1960's, spent a glorious childhood in the 1950's. My parents were neither rich nor educated. My mother came to the USA as a baby, and my fraternal grandparents were also immigrants. Both of my parents had to leave school to work, my mother in a textile factory at a very young age. She was orphaned so she and her siblings were pulled out of school to do factory work by a domineering brother-in-law who took over when the parents died. My father had 11 siblings and had to go work in the CCC corps along with two brothers to help feed the family. My dad served in WWII. He and my mother did well all things considered. He became a cop (at a time when their wages were well below those doing union jobs), she continued factory work in a textile factory that was NOT unionized though I remember them trying to when I was about ten (scary times for another diary some day). Both valued education and were able to help my sister and I attend college. My parents were poor enough that I was offered a campus job at a state college. As well, I worked in the summers and every penny went to the college fund. At the time, state colleges were well supported by the state and affordable for people like my family. It was not an easy lift financially but it was doable. Anyway, as it turns out, my apolitical parents raised two girls, one a flaming liberal (me) and the other a center right libertarian (go figure) which has always had wondering.
So now go below the curl for the story that had me wanting to scream this diary's title in the parking lot!
So is empathy something cultivated or nurtured or taught? Or is it a quality with which we are born? I have pondered this on and off for years. One reason I have done so because I have seen within families (my own being one), both extremes, that is to say, siblings with lots of empathy growing up along side siblings with seemingly very little empathy.
My mother used to tell me that when I was little, maybe three or four, she dreaded taking me into the city to shop because too often there were beggars, some blind, some crippled, and I would cry until she gave them money. I only have vague memories of those times but the feelings seem still strong and so to this day I usually will give something when someone on the streets asks, often earning me “eye rolling” from some who are convinced I am just throwing money away or giving a druggie an opportunity to get high or drunk. I consider myself a fairly good judge of character and honestly there have been times that my gut said no and I listened (often outside a halfway house I passed on my summer walks).
But mostly I just trust folks have to be pretty desperate to beg.
So today I went to Costco. As a retired educator who lives alone, I really have no reason to belong to one of those “club” stores but I joined COSTCO because I want to support what the founder does: pay a decent wagess, give benefits to workers. I am a supporter of labor. As a teacher, I was a member of NEA and my state and locals every year I taught. I was on strike twice, and I never cross picket lines if possible. I stopped going to Walmart the minute I learned of their employee practices. I boycott as much as possible those places that treat labor unfairly.
Anyway, it is 5 degrees here today. So I thought it would not be crowded. But I was wrong. The parking lot was filled so I had quite a walk. And on my walk there it happened. There was a young woman carrying a baby, holding up a sign, asking for help. So many avoided her, shaking their heads negatively. She got to me on this frigid day, and I was so upset. I had no cash with me. The whole scene threw me off. All I had in my purse was a ten-dollar lottery ticket winner. I gave it to her. She looked at me and I immediately discerned she spoke no English. So I showed her the $10 scratch hoping she could understand. She smiled and took it as I said, “ I have no cash with me.” In COSTCO where I go I use an American Express and I was not even sure if I could do cash back. I was sad and concerned as I entered Costco. Then it hit me, I could go out and find her and bring her in and buy her food or something. By the time this all worked out in my brain, the long walk to the store, the long walk out, she was gone. So I went back and got what I needed (paper items), and then I saw an ATM and so got some cash to give her cause I was still unsettled and hoping maybe I could find her using my car. I went out again. I got in my car and drove all around the ridiculously large and crowded parking lot looking for her. I did not find her again. Maybe she figured out/understood she could cash in the ticket and get the money even though it was only ten dollars. Maybe someone else gave her money. My mind again was awash in scenarios of hope.
Finally, I decided to come home. But all the way home, driving on the highway, I was upset, close to tears. Why hadn’t I thought about taking her into the store immediately? Why were so many people able to say NO to this woman and child in the freezing temperature. WHY WAS SHE THERE AT ALL?? All her sign said was “I lost my job and I need food.” What kind of a country are we that a young woman with a baby (no more that five or six months old) is forced to beg in a parking lot? Why wasn’t everyone appalled by this scene and wanting to help?
What is wrong with us??