Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Death of Empathy

I think I've been spending way too much time lately in parking lots, probably because Christmas was just a few days ago and thus I've been shopping for presents about 22.5 hours a day for the last 3 months. So I realize my observations here may be fueled by over-caffeinated, overspending, lack-of-time frustrations, but I still believe them to be valid. So what I want to know is why people these days treat parking lots like a pedestrian-only zone?!

Almost every time I'm in a parking lot these days (parking my car, as per the parking lot 'How To' guide that is widely available), people are walking directly in the line of traffic, many times paying zero attention to the cars trying to (say it with me) PARK in the PARKING LOT. I'm not saying that pedestrians shouldn't have the right of way. I mean, they're usually slightly smaller and made of less reinforced steel than cars, so it makes sense that cars should yield to them. But people wander, seemingly aimlessly, through the area where cars drive, without notice or care. It's the second part that bothers me the most. Inattention is one thing (although its still annoying and actually pretty dangerous), but complete disregard for other fellow humans in close proximity just drives me crazy. Some folks will even turn and look at you, realize that you're driving 3/4 mph because they're walking at a snail's pace directly in the middle of the driving lane, then turn around and just keep on going. WHY?! Again, I say, WHY?!

I have many theories, most of which would morph this blog post into something either hardcore-rant-like (if it isn't already) or 25,000 words long, so I'll leave most of that for later posts. But my main idea is the lack of empathy and connection we have with our fellow peoples these days. This is obviously not a new idea. We hear it every day.  What's the cause? Facebook and social networking? Cell phones? The internet? Our culture of individualism ("Enough about me, what do YOU think about me?")? I'm sure it's all of these things plus eleventy-billion more. Aside of my parking lot example, I see this issue play out in almost every setting. We don't see each other as the valuable, feeling, fragile beings that we ALL are. Tragic, really.

^Nice way to encourage kindness.

I realize that, these days especially, it's apparently cool and hip to be rude, cynical, and uncaring. Since I gave up on trying to be either of these things a long time ago, I try to make it a point every day to empathize with others. While I'm far from perfect, I at least make an effort. If someone is rude at the bank, I try to imagine what might be making them so unhappy as to treat others this way. Or if an elderly person is toddling too slowly through the store, I try to think of how difficult it must make life to have such limited mobility. In many situations, people don't make it easy to empathize, but that just makes it that much more valuable. When someone is rude and, instead of being rude back, you smile at them and ask how their day is going, I bet this will spark a little something positive in this person. 

This is an issue that Ace and I discuss frequently, as we both notice what a problem it seems to be both in our society and many personal relationships (including ours sometimes). Thus, we've made it a priority to teach this habit of being empathetic to The Mayor because, as with so many other behaviors, I believe the parents play the most important role in children understanding how (and why) to empathize with others. I think it will drastically affect the person he becomes in a way that I'm sure I will be proud of one day. 

Oops. I guess I didn't empathize enough with my readers to stop writing 500 words ago. Sorry. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not Everyone Can Celebrate

So I mentioned in a prior post that I try to contribute either my time or money to causes when I can. Money is easier, luckily, because I don't have much time to give. (Not to say I have a lot of money, but certainly enough to share some with those in need).

But I got a big slap in the face this morning on my way to work when it hit me how little I have given and how much I have and how selfish I've been this holiday season. I've spent so much time worrying about buying gifts for my family, about baking cookies for my friends and others (who already have food and shelter), about the gifts I want from others, about decorating the house, about spending time with friends....and the list goes on, all relatively selfish things.

This morning I drove by one of those homeless dudes who stands on the street with a sign, begging for money or food or "anything you can spare". Now I drive by this guy, or one like him, every single work day. Sometimes I notice, sometimes I don't. But today, when it was 20 degrees out and I was cozy in my car and drinking my coffee, thinking about all the cookies I was planning to give away and Christmas presents I have to wrap, I suddenly felt very upset with myself for not bringing this guy some cookies.

I've also been feeling sorry for myself lately over so many (now realized) stupid and unimportant things. I've spent too much money on gifts that I shouldn't have. I've been sick twice in the past month. The Mayor has been crabby a lot lately, making things around the house more challenging. Again, the list goes on. But guess what? I forgot to spend time thinking about all the things I DO have and that are wonderful. Even after I just posted about this very thing (being thankful) around Thanksgiving!!! How quickly we/I forget. I have a wonderful home and family. I am warm and healthy during this cold season. I have the clothes and shoes and coats I need. I eat (too much) whenever I want.

Now I don't know if this guy on the street this morning is REALLY homeless. Maybe and maybe not. But even if he's not, someone else is. And that person or family probably doesn't have ANY of the things I mentioned above. And I won't even get started about the other needy people, such as those that may not be homeless but don't have heat or food, those that don't have shoes that fit to wear in the snow, those that are sick and don't have family to take care of them...etc.

So what am I going to do? I haven't yet decided. Just thinking about these people and being sad does nothing for them. I plan to return with an update of what I've done. Something, anything, to make a difference directly to at least one person in need this holiday season.

Update #1: Just wanted to clarify. I'm not saying I do nothing charitable around the holidays. This year, we've given to 2 toy drives, donated $ to the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, and I frequently give cash and change to the Salvation Army bell ringers and to other various collection points. I guess what I'm looking for is some way to impact a person in need more directly. There's just something so rewarding about touching a person directly, for both parties, I think. I volunteered to cook dinner for 35 children with 3 coworkers in a church basement this summer. It was such a wonderful experience. While I feel donating $ to charity is amazing and 100% necessary for their support, I miss seeing and interacting with the people/animals that those charities support. My biggest problem is time. There are many, many organizations looking for volunteers that I would love to donate my time to like I used to before The Mayor was around. Now these chances are few and far between.

Update #2: BIG, FAT FAIL. So, I got really sick right after I first posted this and was on the couch, miserable, for a few days. And then Christmas day was here and it was insane trying to get all the presents wrapped, the house cleaned up, etc. Long story short, I didn't get to do anything good for another in need (aside of our usual donations). I try to do what I say I'm going to do, but this time it just didn't work out. But I will take a lesson away from this and hopefully remember for the future.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shut Up...I Have Something In My Eye!

I guess I've always been an emotionally sensitive person. I've been described as intense, moody, and many other, less-flattering words I can't say/type here. Sometimes being that way is a good thing. The psychotic sweet love I feel for my husband, son, and other family is a wonderful emotion to experience intensely.

However, I've noticed that it's gotten even worse in the past couple of years.  Whatever the cause of the emotional change I've undergone since The Mayor was born, I find that it's so easy to cry these days. Maybe not a full-on, snot-streaming-down-the lip cry, but at least getting wet in the eyeballs. Sometimes the situation where I find myself weepy surprises me, and sometimes it doesn't. Many are related to babies or children, which just makes me reflect on my little dude. Others are just ridiculous. Lately:
  1.  Any diaper commercial
  2. Watching a video of people dancing to Lady Gaga's "Let's Dance"
  3. At the holiday Parade of Lights this year
  4. Gymboree song sung to the tune of We Will Rock You by Queen
  5. The ending of Monsters, Inc.
  6. Creating a video of Santa for Jack
While these situations can be embarassing, especially when I'm in public, I find them humorous for the most part.

                + Me =

Then there's the much more serious part, the one that's harder to handle and not so funny. Somehow, I used to be able to distance myself from human suffering much more easily. This may sound terrible, but I think I had an issue with being able to empathize and connect with humans due to things that have happened in my life. It's been very hard for me to learn to trust people.

So, before Jack, animal suffering was the cause that really tugged at my heart. I gave money, I volunteered time, I signed petitions for legislation, I adopted every single animal I've ever owned, etc. Since The Mayor, though, I've changed. While I still have this soft spot in my heart for abused/neglected and homeless animals, I am much more drawn to helping humans, and especially children, in need. And it's really no mystery to me why that is. I am now able to see every.single.human.being as someone's child. I can picture Jack in their place, whether homeless, starving, abused in the sex slave industry, illiterate and uneducated due to complete lack of opportunity...the list goes on and on. It brings immediate tears to my eyes and a pain in my heart to ever think of Jack being in need or pain or forgotten by society. All of these people suffering in these situations were/are someone's child. And that just tears me up inside. I can barely watch a Feed the Children commercial, see an ad for the The Smile Network, or see pictures of AIDS orphans who are all alone in the wide world, without crying or feeling ill. And, while it hurts to feel these things, I realize it helps me to be more connected to my fellow humans. To care for them in a way that I wasn't completely capable of before. And that, in my (sad and teary) eyes, is a wonderful thing. Crying at a Pampers commercial is just a silly by product, and I'm OK with that. 

    Sunday, December 5, 2010

    Through The Eyes of a Nose Picker

    So last night we took The Mayor to the big annual holiday parade here in Denver, The Parade of Lights. It's at night, everything's covered in lights, and it's Denver, so it's cold in December at night. As awesome as that may sound, Ace and I are not always good about taking Jack to stuff like that. We're kind of old farts and don't always have the time and energy and enthusiasm to go and do the super-duper-rah-rah-family-happy-time stuff. But I thought this sounded fun. And you know what? It really was awesome , and I almost cried while we were there. I know...hard to being a big, emotional wimp.

    As we were waiting in anticipation for the parade to start (45+ minutes), I kept telling Jack how excited I was (and he should be) and trying to explain what we would see and how neat it would be, since he'd never been to a parade before. He could tell something super cool was going to happen.
    LOVE ME or I'll come after your family!

    Long story not-so-short, I had a really, really fun time at the parade. It was so cool to see the look on Jack's face when the horses went by, and when he saw the dude dressed like a psychotic red muppet Elmo. He was 100% mesmerized for almost an hour. And it hit me while watching him and feeling such inexplicable enjoyment at watching a silly parade, that I was getting the amazing opportunity to see things through the eyes of a child.

    Yeah, yeah, I know. We've all heard it so many times from parents. But when it happens to you, it's just really cool. As we grow and mature, most of us lose the magic and the ability to see the beauty and wonder of the world. And the kids can't really appreciate it for what it is. This experience was the best of both worlds, and THAT is what made is so special, freaky puppets or not.

    Saturday, December 4, 2010

    There's A Lightbulb In My Bum...and Other Things We Teach The Mayor

    Now if Ace and I aren't anything else, we are complete, idiotic goofballs. While Ace tries to somewhat hide this fact from everyone but me and The Mayor, I personally celebrate my absolute stupidity and ridiculousness. Having a good sense of humor, being silly and making fun of myself, and having the ability to laugh when I'd rather cry, are things that get me through life in a more enjoyable fashion. This silliness is such a part of who we both are that it would be no small miracle for The Mayor to grow up without this trait. We never set out to purposefully have this influence on the little guy, but it just can't be helped in our household. And this makes me very, very happy.
    So, the other day, I catch Ace standing up and pretending (for The Mayor's benefit) to poop the TV remote out of his (fully clothed) bum. Of course, little dude thought this was hysterical. How could he not? I think it's hysterical and I'm older than dirt more mature. I guess it shouldn't have come as a surprise when, a day later, The Mayor walks up to me with a light bulb he's playing with (I know, safe, right?) and proceeds to pretend-poop it out of MY bum. It.Was.Awesome.
    It also made me reflect on some of the other things we've been "teaching" him that probably would not gain approval from many folks, which bothers me so little that I can't even finish this sen.......
    Here are some of them:
    1. Whenever I ask a question such as "Who wants to go to the playground?", I've taught The Mayor to raise his hand and say "Me!". This also works with "Who smells like a turdbucket?", "Who wants to go fart on Daddy while he naps?", and many, many other useful questions. I was so excited the day he learned this that I pooped a remote looked for a "Proud Parent of..." bumper sticker, although never found one that fit well. 
    2. Pretty much anytime Jack does, says, or accomplishes anything, he applauds himself and says "Yaaayyyy!". This is particularly hilarious when he...OK, it's funny pretty much all of the time. You just can't help but to smile at a 2 year old cheering for himself for throwing something in the trashcan or finishing his pancakes. 
    3. And one of my favorites that I didn't even teach him, and am not sure how he learned. If he's around a group of adults (especially more than just me and Ace) and we all laugh at a joke or moment of conversation, The Mayor picks up on this and will, literally, throw his head back and laugh like he's totally in on the joke. Which just makes everyone laugh that much harder. 
    While this quality is super awesome and fun in a toddler, I really hope it helps him throughout his life to be able to always see the funny side of things and to not take himself or anyone else too seriously. If more adults would just learn to pretend-poop stuff out of their bums instead of yelling at their kids or kicking the dog, wouldn't the world be a more enjoyable place? In my opinion, Yes and Yesser.