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. 

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