Tag Archives: empathy

Small World, Small Minds

Note: I started my volunteer gig on Monday.  My very first day, I sort of got in trouble for reporting a problem that the “powers that be” subsequently told me wasn’t a problem.  

So, I am going to avoid situations where the “not-a-problem” comes up, in order to stay clean if the shit hits the fan.  Because I take these kinds of “not-a-problem” things really seriously and will not risk my reputation – such as it is – for social reasons and to “get along”.  

Yesterday I atoned for it by repackaging 160 bags of candy for resale.  And was chatty and pretended to like being bossed around by 80 year old women who get sarcastic and mean if things are not done “just so”.

I marveled at the fact that they were able to sit and stand for much longer periods of time than I was. Physically, these first days were hard on me.  The walk to the bus stop to go home is uphill and difficult.  I fell asleep both days during the hour-long trip on the bus going home.

Thankfully, I have today off.

Today’s blog post is about something that happened last week on the van…

I recently wrote a blog post called “Free Garbage is Still…Garbage”, in which I mentioned that many people do not understand how poor folk live in America.  I was writing mainly about people who have never “been there”, people who never think about unpleasant things like hunger and poverty, or people who basically think that being poor is self-inflicted.

Well, I ran into another representative of a group of people who like to complain about people who live on disability – that small but vocal percentage of people who are on disability themselves, but who deserve it!  Because they’re really sick!  They really can’t work!

But those “other” lazy bums, they can!  It’s not right!

I was riding the senior van to a facility, going to my volunteer gig orientation.  A very obese man sat in a wheelchair behind me and started the conversation with, “I used to be in a workfare program, and they were supposed to hire me at the job I worked after 2 years, but after 4 years I hadn’t been hired so I demanded that they hire me!”

“Uh oh,” thought I, “a real charmer.”

“Of course,” he continued, “they said why should they hire me when they can get welfare to pay me?”

By now I am rolling my eyes.  Because you just know that no one said any such thing.

Aside #1: It may have actually been true, but I don’t think they would have told him that to his face – that kind of stuff results in lawsuits.

So he was embellishing somewhat, ok.  We all do it sometimes.

“But then I got arthritis,” he said, “and I couldn’t work.”

He paused, then angrily stated, “It doesn’t matter anyway, because you have to know someone or be related to someone in order to get a job here.  I even went to go see the guy I used to caddy for, and told him I needed a job, but he wouldn’t hire me!  I told him he could either hire me, or pay my way through his social security payments!”

Yeah, because that will surely convince someone to give you a job.

Aside #2: Again, there is some truth to the idea that, in provincial Altoona and in the even more provincial surrounding small towns, you have to know someone/be related to someone to get a job. Mostly because everyone around here is related to someone, or knows someone who is connected to them in some way, who is in a position to hire them/give them a reference (or talk unkindly about them being a troublemaker, in my case).

He was on a roll now. “But you know what makes me so mad?  All these bums on social security who say they can’t work because they have drug and alcohol problems.  They just have to set their minds to not using or drinking, and go back to work!  They’re just lazy!”

Ding ding ding – hot button pushed, right there.

“Now wait a minute,” I objected, “people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol do have a hard time holding a job.  They have a problem that needs to be addressed.”

“Yeah, but it’s all in their heads!  They could work if they wanted to!” he argued.

I sighed.  “You would agree that these substances affect your brain, right?”

“Yeah,” he replied.

“And you would agree that your brain is the thing you think with?  So these substances cause an impairment in the way people think,” I tried to explain.

“Exactly!” he beamed.  “That’s why they can just set their minds to not doing it anymore, and go to work!”

I gave up.  He clearly wasn’t going to get it.  I tried another tactic.

“Welfare and social security fraud is only at about 2%, that’s less than just about at any other government program.  So it’s not that many people,” I stated.

“I know TONS of guys who just sit around all day.  Why, just look at THEM!”  He pointed to 3 guys crossing the street.  They were all about 30, I guess, and were not white.

“Do you know them?” I asked.

“Well, no, but they should be at work!” he exclaimed.

Ok, this guy was just not going to get it.  He has decided that any minority person who is ambulatory and “doesn’t look sick” is just scamming the system.  People like him never seem to change.

So I dropped the subject and stared out the window at the scenery, annoyed.

With all the problems this guy has – health being the major one – he is worried about people he thinks might be taking advantage of the opulent living we on social security disability have?

But he himself is on social security disability.  Surely he knows this ain’t no “high-on-the-hog” living.

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Empathy, Shlempathy: Who Cares?

I have to admit I am becoming increasingly bewildered by the online world.

You have Facebook, which can be a funny, nice online thing to read….until you get the “poor thing” spammy posts, that go something like: “My friend’s sister’s cousin’s best friend sent me this picture of this POOR CHILD! It’s so sad, he/she is dying/scarred for life/missing/chronically ill.  Like this page and pass it on!!”

Sometimes there is a link to a crowd funding site, so you can send money too.

Sometimes it isn’t a child, it’s an adult.  I saw one post on FB where a woman was asking for money – preferably in person from a celebrity – so she could buy a large-screen tv.  She is on disability, you see, and never has money for stuff like that.

You can imagine what I said to her.

Regarding the children ones, I used to look them up on Snopes but it got so that there were so many of them that I didn’t want to bother anymore.  Why should I be the one to look up a hoax?  They all have internet access, too, and if they are too gullible to just believe everything anybody says, well….not my problem.

The children postings, if you look at the source, quite often come from FB pages where there are nothing but these stories.  Usually it is a middle-aged or older woman, who seems to collect them and pass them on.  No vetting, no nothing.  Just hysterical, “brought tears to my eyes” posts.

I can’t call what these people feel “empathy”.  It’s more like they are just easily manipulated and get their “crying buttons” pushed.  Like when you watch a movie.  No one would say they felt “empathy” for the couple in “Titanic”, for example.  It’s not the right term for it.

I think the more exposure this kind of post gets, the more it serves to shut people down entirely.  I mean, you can’t help everyone, right?  And when you think about it, “liking” a post on FB does NOTHING.  It doesn’t help the person who is supposedly in trouble/sick/dying/whatever.  So, what’s the point?

The point is to show everyone how empathetic you are, without actually having to be empathetic, or to act on that feeling and really help someone.

It’s easy, and it’s lazy.  And fake as all get-out.   And, even when you point out that it’s a hoax, some people just dig in more and insist it’s not.  Because damn, then they would look gullible and stupid, instead of caring and on moral high ground.

It’s part of the fakery that is the online world.  I am puzzled by it all.

It also is dismissive of real-world problems, and what people can do to change them.

It’s easy to “like” a page on FB.  But it’s hard to:

~ Visit an elderly shut-in

~ Visit a sick/dying person in the hospital

~ Offer to run errands for people in crisis

~ Go out with volunteer search teams to help find a missing child

~ Volunteer anywhere, to do anything…

These actions really do help.  But they also make people aware of others, and other peoples’ pain, and so elicit the kind of real empathy that seems somewhat lacking in today’s world.

When you think about someone, someone you have talked to, and the kinds of things they are going through, and how it affects them, and suddenly you feel sad or angry…

That’s empathy.

When you are moved to do something – anything – that can ease someone’s burden or pain, because you will ache inside until you do….

That’s empathy.

If even one post I have ever written here moves you to action, to help someone else…

That feeling of being moved, that’s empathy.

This other stuff on the internet?  Not so much.

Oh I won’t bitch about people sending money on crowd funding sites, if it really helps someone.  That, too, can be the result of empathy.  Some people have neither the time nor the ability to get out there and physically do something, and that’s ok by me.

I am disabled, with no transportation, and would only be able to volunteer if someone could give me a ride.  That would be empathy, too…a “2-for-1 deal” where you would not only be helping me, you would be helping me help someone else.

Ha, I did try to volunteer at 3 places around here – at the library, at a ‘feed-the-homeless’ thing sponsored by a church, and at the women’s shelter that helped me 5 years ago when I showed up on their doorstep.

The minute I asked about car-pooling (hey, I’m not cheap, I will pay for gas), didn’t hear a word back, ever.

That’s definitely not empathy.

I’m not sure what that was, actually, but it saddened me.

If I ever win the lottery, I will start a non-profit that includes transportation for people who want to volunteer.

My dream, of course, is to start a women’s shelter that is run in a logical manner (as in, it actually helps women and their children and pets), has a way to make it easy for people to volunteer (like a van), and has a small side-business for the women to work in until they find work elsewhere (if they want to).

I say “win the lottery” because at this point, as poor as I am, I can’t see how that’s ever going to happen.

Heck if I could get a job that paid well, I would use my own money to start a shelter.

But right now, as it stands, all I can do is write.  Write about the issues that the poor, the disabled, the disenfranchised, the survivors of domestic abuse have.

And try to evoke empathy.

I don’t have any book recommendations this week.  Originally, I was going to recommend Dee Brown’s “The Gentle Tamers: Women of the Old WIld West”, because I had skipped around and read some of the later chapters and, while I found the content somewhat patronizing, it wasn’t until I went back and read the book from the beginning that I realized I cannot recommend it.

Yes, the book was written in 1958.  Yes, it relies heavily on the ‘biographies’ of the (mostly eastern U.S. and wealthy) white women who wrote somewhat sensationalist serialized books for profit.

But I expected more from Dee Brown.

The book relies heavily on stereotypes and horror stories about tribal men kidnapping pioneer women whose only ‘crime’, it would seem, was their traipsing across tribal lands.

But, in fact, many of these women were missionaries (out to ‘civilize’ native people by opening up schools on native land and re-naming native children – and adults – with English names); wives of military men who established forts on native lands and then proceeded to kill the natives with guns and diseases; and wealthy women traveling with their husbands to seek their fortunes in California during the gold rush.

In other words, they tried to destroy the indigenous people using disease, cultural obliteration, and just flat-out murdering them.

All of them believers in “manifest destiny”.

All of them convinced that native men were ignorant, ‘uncivilized’, sneaky, bloodthirsty rapists – and their accounts reflected that.

Honestly, I couldn’t get through most of it without being angry.

I don’t know what Dee Brown’s story was, in between this book and “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”.  He must have had an epiphany of sorts.

There is no context for the “Taming” book, and there needed to be.  So I cannot recommend it.

For weird news….this falls under the “what a weird thing to think” category:

At the February meeting of the U.N. Disarmament Conference in Geneva, a representative from Belarus made this comment about the debate regarding whether or not the meeting should be public…

“What if there were topless ladies screaming from the public gallery, throwing bottles of mayonnaise?” (“Belarus Diplomat Worries Topless, Mayo-Throwing Women Could Disrupt U.N.”, Reuters website, 2/11/15)

And the response is weird, too…the president of the conference replied that “members of the public were already entitled to attend plenary meetings of the conference and sit in the public gallery, and so in theory could already drop mayonnaise onto delegates.” (Ibid)

Then there is…Shane “But I Was Hungry” Lindsey was arrested in New Kensington, PA, when he stopped for some chicken and biscuits right after robbing a bank down the street.  Well, though, in his defense, you really can’t get a decent chicken and biscuit meal anywhere up north here, so when you find one, it’s just too irresistable. (“Police: Suspect Stopped for Chicken-and-Biscuits After New Kensington Bank Robbery”, CBS Pittsburgh website, 1/15/15)

Dammit, now I’m hungry.  Gotta go make biscuits.

Be good.  Be kind.  Eat biscuits, southern-style.